The Concept of Utilitarianism | logicalrepublic

As documented in his Autobiography (1873), Mill was groomedfrom birth by his father to become the ultimate Victorian intellectualand utilitarian reformer. As part of this apprenticeship, Mill wasexposed to an extremely demanding education, shaped by utilitarianprinciples. While Mill followed the strict intellectual regimen laiddown by his father for many years, he suffered a profound intellectualand emotional crisis in the period 1826–1830. Mill's recovery wasassisted by friendships he formed with Thomas Carlyle and SamuelColeridge, who introduced him to ideas and texts from the Romantic andConservative traditions. As Mill emerged from his depression, he becamemore concerned with the development of well-rounded individuals andwith the role of feeling, culture, and creativity in the happiness ofindividuals (see Capaldi 2004).

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Utilitarianism is one of the best known and most influential moral theories

John Stuart Mill: Ethics - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Notice that these relationships among duty, justice, and rights donot yet introduce any utilitarian elements. But Mill does think thatwhether sanctions ought to be applied to an action—and hencewhether it is wrong—and whether society ought to enforce anindividual's claim—and hence whether she has a right—bothdepend upon the utility or expediency of doing so (V 25). He does notsay precisely what standard of expediency he has in mind. Inparticular, he does not say whether the relevant test for whethersomething is wrong requires that sanctions be optimal or merelybeneficial. To fix ideas, let us assume that an action is wrong if andonly if it is optimal to sanction it.


Because this account of duty defines the rightness and wrongness ofan act, not in terms of its utility, as act utilitarianism does, but interms of the utility of applying sanctions to the conduct, it is anindirect form of utilitarianism. Because justice is a species of duty,it inherits this indirect character (also see Lyons 1994). Because itmakes the deontic status of conduct depend upon the utility ofsanctioning that conduct in some way, we might call this conception ofduty, justice, and rights sanction utilitarianism. Becausesanction utilitarianism is a species of indirect utilitarianism, it isinconsistent with act utilitarianism. The introduction of indirectutilitarian ideas in Chapter V of Utilitarianism into anaccount of utilitarianism that otherwise looks act utilitarian revealsa fundamental tension in Mill's thought about duty.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is one of the best known and most influential moral theories. Like other forms of consequentialism, its core idea is that whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects.
This post continues what has evolved into my critical series on Jonathan Haidt (see parts 1 and 2)

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