A Defense of John Stuart Mill's Proof of the Principle of Utility

Dissertation, Washington University in St. Louis (1994)
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Abstract

In my dissertation, I analyze, interpret, and defend John Stuart Mill's proof of the principle of utility in the fourth chapter of his Utilitarianism. My purpose is not to glorify utilitarianism, in a full sweep, as the best normative ethical theory, or even to vindicate, on a more specific level, Mill's universalistic ethical hedonism as the best form of utilitarianism. I am concerned only with Mill's utilitarianism, and primarily with his proof of the principle of utility. My overarching purpose guiding the entire work is to show that Mill proceeds intelligibly and systematically in pursuing a well-defined project in the fourth chapter of Utilitarianism, and that he successfully defends what he sets out to establish in his proof of the principle of utility. To this end, I devote the bulk of my efforts to studying and responding to traditionally popular and persistently enduring objections to the proof that are handed down from one generation to the next in the philosophical community as a standard companion to Utilitarianism. The primary objections to which I respond at length are the charges that Mill commits the naturalistic fallacy, the fallacy of equivocation, and the fallacy of composition in his proof. Secondary literature on the subject consists of journal articles and book chapters that treat one or another but not all of these problems. My research has convinced me that, although these commentaries are generally quite good, they are mutually incompatible, and they are neither severally nor jointly sufficient to produce the kind of comprehensive defense that would do justice to Mill's proof of the principle of utility. This kind of comprehensive defense is what I intend to contribute to secondary literature on the subject. Specifically, my ultimate contribution to secondary literature is an interpretation of Mill's proof of the principle of utility in its entirety, absolved of the three fallacies commonly attributed to the proof, yet faithful to the text at all points.

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Necip Fikri Alican
Washington University in St. Louis (PhD)

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