John Stuart Mill – Utilitarianism, Chapter 1, “General Remarks”

  • Mill complains that there hasn’t been any progress in how the criteria for right & wrong are determined. The “greater good” & the foundation of morality is the core of philosophy but its at an impasse when you can’t determine what passes for right & wrong.
    • Science has its own problem with its 2st principles but it still has trustworthy conclusions. This is because the doctrines of a science aren’t usually derived from or depend on its 1st principles. Its truths are accepted as 1st principles are actually the last results of a metaphysical analysis, practiced on the basic notions science deals with. Their relations to the science is more like a tree’s roots than a building’s foundations.
  • But a practical art like morals or legislation, truths must precede general theory. When we engage in a pursuit, we need a test of right & wrong – we don’t have this. We usually use our senses or instinct, which doesn’t work.
    • Our moral faculty is a part of our reason, not senses. We use it for abstract morality, not the concrete. The intuitive & inductive school insists the necessity of general laws morality of an individual action is the application of a law to that case. While a list of a priori principles is necessary, it’s never made, & is only useful to see if they contradict each other. There should be 1 fundamental principle at the root of all morality or, if several, an order of precedence between them.
  • To see how the bad effects of this have been mitigated, you’d have to conduct a survey of the field & critique each development throughout the years. Any consistency in moral beliefs is due to the tacit influence of a standard not recognized.
    • Ethics, based on principles not stated, has less of an effect on people’s feelings than the concept of Utilitarianism (Bentham called it the “Greatest-Happiness Principle”)
    • No school of thought rejects this principle but none actually declares it to be its moral foundation. It’s a long the same lines as Kant’s Categorical Imperative being the 1st principle & origin of moral obligation: “So act, that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings”.
      • Kant fails to build on this as far as the actual duties of morality. All he does is show the consequences of universal adoption would be that no one would choose to take on.
  • Mill is going to explain Utilitarianism & develop some of its theory while being as attentive to philosophy as scientists are towards science.

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