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Today’s Lecture

  • Grade spreadsheet


  • Study session on Monday 18th

  • Final Exam and office hours

  • Immanuel Kant

  • Preliminary comments on Mill

  • John Stuart Mill

Grade spreadsheet

  • I will be placing an undated grade spreadsheet on the course website some time today (probably this evening). Please check to ensure that the data matches what you have (this will be the last chance to do so before the exam).

  • If there are any discrepancies, come and see me.

  • Remember that if your assignments are not in by Friday you will receive a zero on the relevant assignment.

  • There is no negotiation on this one, so don’t leave this task to the last minute.

Study session on Monday 18th

  • There will be a study session on Monday the 18th, from 1100-1300 (or 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.). This will be held in Talbot College room 305 (NOT 310 … apparently they are removing the floor). You don’t have to stay for the whole period, if you come at all. Attendance is strictly voluntary. But you may be able to help each other out.

  • Bring ideas and talk stuff over. I won’t be able to give you any substantive answers, as that would defeat the purpose of the exam. But I can referee your discussion (i.e. if you need a referee).

Final Exam and office hours

  • Don’t forget that the final exam is on Tuesday, the 19th, at 9:00 a.m.

  • The location, remember, is TC 343.

  • Also, I will choose the exam questions from the first fifteen questions on your original handout of possible exam questions (unfortunately we will not be getting to either Rawls or hooks - so drop questions 16 and 17).

  • My final office hours for this course are this week. I will be submitting your final grades on Friday the 22nd, so if you have any questions about grades, seek me out before the 22nd.

Second Section: Rational beings as ends in themselves

  • The third version of the supreme categorical imperative rests on a recognition that each of us, when we will an action, treat ourselves as ends in ourselves ... not merely as means. Since we could not (without contradiction) will ourselves to be regarded as means only, we ought not to treat other rational beings in this way (FP, p.662).

  • This is true whether we talk of hypothetical or categorical imperatives (FP, pp.661-62).

  • This Kant contends, is a duty of every rational agent (FP, p.662).

  • The ‘third version’ reads: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only” (FP, p.662).

Second Section: Rational beings as ends in themselves

  • Of note in getting to this point: Kant is delineating here who is included in the moral community of ends in themselves. Only those who count as rational beings, who have the power to determine their own actions “according to the conception of laws” (FP, p.653) are to be included. Kant restricts the notion of persons to such beings (FP, p.662)).

  • Note that this view of each rational being as an end in herself nicely yields talk of rights.

Second Section: Rational beings as ends in themselves

  • The autonomy of rational beings is exploited in what is arguably the fourth version of the supreme categorical imperative where he contends that “the principle of every human will as a will giving universal law in all its maxims is very well adapted to being a categorical imperative” (FP, p.664).

Second Section: The kingdom of ends

  • The notion of each and every rational being as a member of a legislative body, legislating universal laws for all rational beings (as ends in themselves), yields an image of a kingdom of ends (i.e. a kingdom of ends in themselves) (FP, pp.664-65).

  • This last image nicely connects Kant’s theory to the social contract theory of his (near) contemporaries.

Second Section: The kingdom of ends

  • This kingdom of ends is one in which every rational being legislates universal laws which are objectively binding for all. Within such a shared system of laws, they do not vary since they arise from our shared rational faculties, each views him/herself as a legislating member (FP, p.665).

Second Section: The kingdom of ends

  • This suggests the intrinsic value of the good will ... that is the will which is itself determined by universal law. The will and reason allow every rational being to determine her own actions, independently of inclinations or empirical contingencies. This gives each rational being, as an end in themselves, inestimable value ... what Kant christens ‘dignity’ (FP, pp.665-66).

Revisiting Consequentialism

  • Consequentialists treat our moral notion of the good as more fundamental than the right…in contrast to deontologists.

  • Actions which maximize the (aggregate) good are considered right, while those which minimize the (aggregate) good are considered wrong.

  • Regardless of the favored view of the good, actions are, according to consequentialists, extrinsically right or wrong, depending on their overall consequences.

Preliminary comments about what Mill is up to

  • Mill’s method of inquiry in the pursuit of a normative ethical theory is fundamentally empirical rather than a priori. On this point alone his approach contrasts with Kant’s (FP, pp.671-72).

  • Like Kant, Mill hopes to provide a rational method for deciding our moral duties or obligations.

  • By ‘rational method’ I mean a way to reflectively and critically approach the relevant ‘data’ (that is, a given moral context) and make a warranted judgment regarding what is right or wrong, or alternatively what is good or evil.

  • The judgment will be warranted if and only if it conforms to the relevant epistemic standards or values.

Preliminary comments about what Mill is up to

  • For Mill, an analysis, or theory, of morality must do more than merely analyze what it means to be a rational being, or to act rationally.

  • It must accommodate the probable source of morality in our being social animals with a particular ability to extend our natural inclinations or sentiments for our own welfare to include the greater community of humankind…and all other sentient life.

Preliminary comments about what Mill is up to

  • The universality of Mill’s moral theory lies in “the theory of life” it presupposes (see FP, p.681).

  • Drawing from biology and psychology, Mill suggests that all sentient life is attracted to that which causes pleasure and is averse to that which causes pain (see FP, p.682).

  • Understood by Mill as the Good, happiness is integrally tied up with maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain (caveats to come) (FP, p.681).

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • Mill contrasts what he calls the intuitive and inductive schools of ethics (FP, p.679).

  • The intuitive school of ethics, for Mill, divides into popular and philosophical forms (FP, p.678).

  • The popular forms talk of intuitive faculties which perceive the right and the wrong in the concrete (i.e. in particular actions or in the particular moral context) (FP, p.678).

  • What reasons might there be to think this approach will fail…as Mill thinks it will?

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • The philosophical forms of the intuitive school of ethics see the intuitive faculty as an aspect of our faculty of reason, only supplying us with general moral principles (FP, p.678). It is under this class of intuitive ethics that Mill places Kant (see FP, p.680).

  • Under the philosophical forms of the intuitive school, the principles of ethics, or general moral laws, are evident a priori (i.e. without appeal to experience).

  • The evidency of such principles or laws emerges from a proper understanding of the terms or notions involved (FP, pp.678-79).

  • This is clearly Kant’s position.

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • Inductive schools of ethics, including utilitarian ones like Mill’s, ground moral principles or general moral laws in observation and experience (i.e. they are fundamentally empiricist) (FP, p.679).

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • Note part of Mill’s own conception of an adequate normative ethical theory, and how we ought to go about our moral reasoning, in this discussion.

  • An adequate normative ethical theory will have high order principles or laws from which we deduce our moral judgments about a given case, action or circumstance (FP, p.679).

  • This justificatory structure for our moral judgments relevantly resembles a foundationalist epistemology.

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • It is important to note Mill’s criticism of Kant’s a priori approach.

  • It is his contention that Kant must, at some point in a defense of his position, appeal to utilitarian arguments (FP, pp.679-80).

  • Think of Kant’s third example (i.e. The Talented (But Lazy) Person) (FP, p.659) or his fourth example (i.e. The Selfish, and Unscrupulous, Rich Person) (FP, p.659). Does he sneak in utilitarian, or at least consequentialist, considerations?

  • Indeed, Mill suggests that his moral theory will fail without them (FP, p.679).

Utilitarianism: Chapter One

  • Mill rejects the idea of a “direct proof” (FP, p.680) for an ultimate end (of action) (FP, p.680).

  • (He seems to mean by ‘direct proof’ something decisive, or yielding a conclusion that is necessarily or at least evidently true.)

  • He suggests the following examples. Though medicine and music are extrinsically valuable/good as means to health and pleasure respectively, neither health nor pleasure are open to direct proof as intrinsically valuable/good (FP, p.680).

  • Is he right?

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • It is important to recognize that Mill is offering clarifying comments and corrections to common misconceptions about Utilitarianism in the second chapter.

  • He also responds to objections that he thinks arise from mistaken interpretations of Utilitarianism (FP, p.680).

  • This chapter is not a direct defense of his normative ethical theory (FP, p.680).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Utilitarianism’s foundational/supreme principle, as understood by Mill, is known as “the Greatest Happiness Principle” (FP, p. 681).

  • It states that: “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (FP, p. 681).

  • Happiness is “pleasure and the absence of pain” while unhappiness is “pain and the privation of pleasure” (FP, p. 681).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - important caveats

  • (1) Mill will want to qualitatively distinguish pleasures, and pains. Some pleasures are qualitatively more valuable than others, and dido for pain (FP, p.682).

  • (2) Mill is not just talking of one individual’s pleasure or pain when talking of maximizing happiness and minimizing unhappiness. Rather he is referring to the aggregate pleasure or pain of the relevant moral community. This community includes “the whole [of] sentient creation” (FP, p.684).

  • (3) Mill understands Utilitarianism to be concerned not only with maximizing the aggregate happiness of the relevant moral community, but also minimizing the aggregate unhappiness of said community (FP, p.684).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - important caveats

  • (4) Mill, like Kant, distinguishes the criteria for right and wrong from the motives one has for acting rightly or wrongly. This is an important distinction for Mill as we’ll see soon (FP, pp.688-89).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • To contend, as Utilitarians do, that the ultimate end of action is the maximizing of pleasure and freedom from pain, is, for some anti-Utilitarians, “a doctrine worthy only of swine” (FP, p.682).

  • There is in such an objection the implicit accusation that Utilitarian doctrine undermines human dignity...reducing humans to mere animal pursuits (FP, p.682).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • Mill’s response is several-fold.

  • (1) The greatest happiness principle is only reducing humans to mere animal pursuits if human pleasure does not differ from that experienced by animals other than human (FP, p.682).

  • (2) What’s more, if this were all there is to human pleasure, then Utilitarians could hardly be accused of debasing humanity (FP, p.682).

  • (3) That this objection has any force indicates, for Mill, that human pleasure is qualitatively different from that of animals other than human (FP, p.682).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • This is where Mill introduces the aforementioned caveat regarding the qualitative differences that exist between pleasures (and between pains), and the cautionary note that the Greatest Happiness Principle does not restrict Utilitarians to the pursuit of quantity over quality of pleasures (FP, p.682).

  • Do be careful here. Quantity of pleasure is nevertheless important.

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • Mill introduces the notion of competent judges to allow for an objective (read inter-subjective) basis for distinguishing the quality of pleasures (you will find something similar to this in Plato’s Republic) (FP, p.682).

  • A competent judge is someone who has experienced the range of relevant states over which she is about to judge. Having experienced this range of states she is thought to be in an informed, or competent, position from which to judge (FP, p.682).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • Mill contends that convergence of (all, or the majority of) judgments made by the class of competent judges regarding which pleasures are of superior value is sufficient to warrant a judgment to that affect (FP, p.682).

  • Two important qualifications are (1) that these judges are not to be swayed by feelings of moral duty to prefer one over the other and (2) that they possess a significant degree of self-knowledge (FP, pp.682, 684).

  • The strength of his contention lies in there being no other way, on his account, to compare the intensity or quality of pleasures or pains other than experiencing both (FP, p.682).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • Mill contends that those experienced with the range of pleasures open to humanity tend to favor those associated with our “higher faculties” (FP, p.683), even when it is known that the ‘lower pleasures’ are more easily attained (FP, p.683).

  • Indeed, he contends that humans who have experienced the range of pleasures open to humanity only content themselves with the easily attained lower pleasures because of a weakness of will or under extreme duress ... i.e. when their unhappiness is so extreme as to push them towards such lower pleasures, when they are no longer capable of the higher pleasures or if they no longer enjoy access to the higher pleasures (FP, pp.683-84).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two - the ‘swine objection’

  • This discussion is summed up in Mill’s now famous response: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” (FP, p.683).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Mill’s caveat about Utilitarianism minimizing the aggregate unhappiness as well as maximizing the aggregate happiness of the relevant moral community is in response to the objection that happiness is unattainable, i.e. impossible (FP, p.685).

  • Mill also here clarifies further what he means by happiness.

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • He contends that a life in which an individual experiences periodic states of pleasure, a minimal amount of pain, and possesses a realistic expectation of what can be achieved in life, is one that is properly described as happy (FP, p.685).

  • Happiness is not, then, the succession of states of pleasure. So understood, happiness would not be attainable (FP, p.685).

  • To those who doubt that such a description of the happy life would satisfy everyone, Mill suggests that many have contented themselves with less (i.e. many have contented themselves with enjoying a certain frequency of tranquility or excitement) (FP, pp.685-86).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Mill also concedes that humans can indeed live without happiness, but this is often in contexts in which they have no other choice ... i.e. where they have lack the proper opportunities to acquire the education needed to enjoy certain pleasures or the discipline to avoid certain vices, and where the social institutions ignore or unfairly pass over the disadvantaged (FP, pp.685, 686-87).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • He will also concede that among the noble there are those who sacrifice their own happiness, and are counted noble (read very moral) for doing so.

  • But, Mill contends, such sacrifice is properly regarded as noble only when the individual in questions sacrifices their own happiness so that others do not have to suffer a similar fate, or so that others may be happy (FP, p.687).

  • “A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it [i.e. Utilitarianism] considers as wasted” (FP, p.688).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • It is important to note that Mill insists that the greatest happiness principle ought to be applied impartially (see page 688 of your FP). Each individual’s happiness counts as one among many (i.e. the members of the relevant moral community) within the Utilitarian calculus (FP, p.688).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Mill’s emphasis on social reform comes into play as a way of combating the favoritism of the few over the many enjoyed under the British social institutions of his time, and as a way of combating the selfishness, or apathy towards others, extant in British society (see FP, pp.686, 688).

  • It is Mill’s belief that such selfishness is inculcated rather than innate, but that at any rate it can be overcome through education and proper socialization (FP, pp.686, 688).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Mill also deals with the objection that the Utilitarian ideal is too high a standard by which to live. It is impossible, it is argued, to always act with the general or aggregate good of the whole moral community in mind (FP, p.688).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • This is the context for Mill’s caveat about distinguishing talk of the criteria for right and wrong from the motives one has for acting rightly or wrongly (FP, p.688).

  • It is only when an action, or set of actions, can (directly) affect the general or aggregate happiness of the relevant moral community that the moral agent should consider whether her action(s) will positively or negatively affect the aggregate happiness of the whole (FP, p.689).

  • Otherwise, her motives are irrelevant when considering the moral quality of her actions. What matters is whether her actions do, in fact, contribute to the aggregate happiness of the community of moral equals (FP, 688).

  • This is in strong contrast to Kant’s view of the matter.

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • He does add the following caveats.

  • (1) The responsible moral agent ought to consider, before acting, whether by so acting she will adversely affect the “legitimate and authorized expectations...of anyone else” (FP, p.689).

  • (2) The responsible moral agent ought also to reconsider an action when “the action is of a class which, if practiced generally, would be generally injurious” (FP, p.689).

  • (2) is reminiscent of Kant.

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • One of Mill’s more contentious points is that the motive of an action only matters to judgments about the moral character of an agent rather than the morality of the action (FP, pp.688, 690).

  • Thus if an individual saves a drowning child merely because he is going to be financially rewarded for his labor, he still acts rightly (FP, p.688).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • In footnote 2 Mill does discuss the relevance of intention when circumscribing behavior under the description of a certain type of action.

  • If an agent saves a drowning person only because they intend to torture them then their sub-action (that of saving the person from drowning) is only one step in a ‘greater’ action which is morally blameworthy (FP, p.689).

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • This response raises a perennial problem for ethicists - How do we decide on the proper description for the behavior we are trying to morally assess? Or, What are the criteria for setting the boundaries of behavior so that we can judge that behavior under a general description which fits a type of action?

Utilitarianism: Chapter Two

  • Note also that Mill allows for other moral assessments than those of action. That is, he concedes that we must accommodate our moral discourse about individual character. His focus of discussion just happens to be right and wrong action, rather than good or evil character (FP, pp.689, 690).

  • Do note Mill’s responses to those who would accuse Utilitarians of holding a godless doctrine (FP, p.691). You would do well to relate his comments back to Plato’s Euthyphro.

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