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J. S. Mill's Proof of the Principle of Utility

  • D. D. Raphael (a1)

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In the introductory chapter of his essay on Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill says his aim is to contribute towards the understanding of utilitarianism and towards ‘such proof as it is susceptible of’. He immediately adds that ‘this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term’ because ‘ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof’. A proof that something is good has to show that it is ‘a means to something admitted to be good without proof’. But, he goes on, this does not imply that a formula of ultimate ends can only be accepted on ‘blind impulse, or arbitrary choice’. It can be rationally discussed and subjected to proof in a wider sense of that word. ‘Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.’

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1 Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, ed. Robson, John M., Toronto, 1969, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, x. 207–8.

2 Moore, G. E., Principia Ethica, Cambridge, 1903, pp. 66–7, 104–5.

3 Philosophy, xxx (1955), 344–57. The footnote references on pp. 351–4 are misprinted, through editorial error, as if citing Karl Britton's book, John Stuart Mill, instead of the Everyman edition of Utilitarianism. The article also defends Mill from a third charge of fallacy in his contention that a qualitative distinction of higher and lower pleasures is compatible with traditional hedonism, which draws the distinction in terms of quantity. My method of defending Mill from this charge has been challenged by ProfessorDryer, D. P. (‘Mill's Utilitarianism’, in CW, x. lxxxviiilxxxix) and by ProfessorLong, Roderick T. (‘Mill's Higher Pleasures and the Choice of Character’, in Uiilitas, iv (1992), 280–1). I think that their criticism is largely justified and that Professor Long's alternative method of defending Mill is sounder and more illuminating.

4 CW, viii. 84a–4.

5 Hume, David, Treatise of Human Nature, Bk III, Part I, §1, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A. and revised by Nidditch, P. H., Oxford, 1978, p. 457.

6 Raphael, D. D., Justice and Liberty, London, 1980.

J. S. Mill's Proof of the Principle of Utility

  • D. D. Raphael (a1)

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