In giving an account of utilitarianism, J.S. Mill seeks to identity what type of proof is sufficient to accept the utilitarian principle that happiness is our only desirable end. The proof Mill offers is particular to first principles and suffers from several weaknesses. I shall first outline Mill’s proof, in two parts, of the utilitarian principle. From there I shall introduce G.E. Moore’s criticisms that Mill commits the naturalistic fallacy and conflates means with ends . Following this I will explicate Henry Sidgwick’s attack of the notion that individual pursuits of happiness amount to any exhortation to pursue the general happiness, along with a general argument against psychological hedonism. Though partial defenses exist against each criticism, overall they lack sufficient force to negate Sidgwick and Moore’s concerns.
Proof for First Principles
Describing the first principle upon which utilitarianism stands, Mill writes that “happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end.”1 According to him such first principles, those that undergird our knowledge, require a particular type of proof and utilitarianism’s is no different. Mill’s proof of utilitarianism, then, is twofold: first, that we can know what is in itself desirable, and second that all that we desire is happiness, with all other seeming ends being but means to achieving the general happiness. It is a quick move, and admits more of analysis than exposition. The first aspect of Mill’s proof centers on an appeal to analogy of apprehending phenomena with our senses.
Beleaguered by criticisms that Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism debases human nature by setting mere pleasure as man’s greatest good, J.S. Mill proposes a qualitative distinction between higher and lower pleasures. However, Mill’s proposed change opens utilitarianism up to criticisms not present in Bentham’s formulation, and on these grounds ought to be rejected in favor of the original formulation (whatever its worth). I’ll begin by introducing the impetus for Mill’s proposed changes to utilitarianism and his panel-based test for higher versus lower pleasures. From there I’ll discuss key objections from Henry Sidgwick and G.E. Moore, who each argue that the nature of pleasure does not allow for nonquantitative distinctions unless they refer to some other property. Following these concerns, I’d like to introduce two additional problems for Mill’s proposal, viz. that his test for competing pleasures is plagued by ‘jury-stacking’ and that his proposed lexical scale for pleasure does not apply equally to pain.
J.S. Mill: Quality over Quantity
In setting pleasure1 as man’s highest aspiration, Bentham’s formulation of utilitarianism has been accused of debasing humans to the level of beasts. Bentham and Mill roundly reject this notion, arguing instead that the pleasures that sate beasts are not capable of sating man due to his higher faculties. Furthermore, such a view is not at all inconsistent with utilitarianism.2 Such anthropocentric pleasures, by Mill’s account, have previously been ascribed greater value due to the ease and safety with which we can promote and maintain them as opposed to physical pleasures.3
Mill argues further that an equally consistent, and more preferable, claim can be made by utilitarians, viz. “some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that, while in estimating all other things quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasure should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.”4 Mill states that the only possible method to test which desires are higher and which lower is a panel-based evaluation by competent judges.
Head on over to Abram Demski’s blog In Search of Logic to see the February 10th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! The March 10th edition, #149, will be held at Kennypearce.net, and you can nominate posts here.
Welcome to the 147th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival here at Philosophy & Polity! There are some really great posts, running the gamut of everything from philosophy of religion to the intersections of philosophy and science. For whatever reason, this edition seems to have tended toward normative posts. Enjoy!
Kicking things off, Rebecca Roache over at Practical Ethics asks why photographs hold such a hallowed position as the most preferred medium of representation in “Why a Painting is as Good as a Photo on a Passport.” She writes:
For whatever privileged epistemic status photographs may enjoy over other means of pictorial representation is compromised by the process of photograph selection and approval used in passport and driving licence applications. As a result, there seems no obvious case against using handmade pictures (or, rather, photographs of them) in those documents. If the Identity and Passport Service is willing to rely on human judgments about whether photographs are good likenesses of the people they depict, why not also accept handmade pictures judged by the same people to be good likenesses?
On the slightly related note of appearance and perception, S.M.E. over at Rational Conceits offers a treatment of some of the issues concerning our reliance upon our sense organs in order to delineate real and illusory perceptions in “On the Meaning of Veridicality in Perception.” He writes,
Nevertheless, certain of our experiences, such as illusions and hallucinations (as well as dreams and religious mystical experiences), may be regarded as more subjective and idiosyncratic and less veridical than others and so it is reasonable to ask what separates these two classes of experience that they qualify for different linguistic labels. The answer lies in the spatial locus of the stimulation or energy that initiates the experience, where in space the experience is localized, and also in the fact that each Homo sapiens brain is, with slight exception, a virtual replica of every other.
Continuing in a similar vein of truth and proof, Catarina over at M-Phi discusses the usage and usefulness of indirect proofs in “A Dialogical Conception of Indirect Proofs.” She writes,
If we accept that indirect proofs are a bit of an oddity even within mathematics, it makes sense to ask how on earth this argumentative strategy might have emerged and established itself as one of the most common ways to prove mathematical theorems. Now, as some readers may recall, my current research project focuses on ‘the roots of deduction’, adopting the hypothesis that we need to go back to deduction’s dialogical origins to make sense of the whole thing (as discussed here, for example). And here again, it seems that the dialogical, multi-agent perspective offers fresh insight into the nature of indirect proofs.
Switching gears, at his eponymous blog Ex-Apologist offers a survey of criticisms of Plantinga’s account of warranted belief in “What’s Wrong with Plantinga’s Proper Functionalism?” He says,
With respect to his accounts of warranted theistic and Christian belief: (i) His analysis of warranted Christian belief can’t adequately account for the variability of belief among Christians; (ii) his postulation of a sensus divinitatis in human beings is at odds with the empirical evidence regarding the demographics of theistic belief; and (ironically) (iii) his account entails that the belief of most Christians has little by way of warrant. And of course there’s (iv) the Great Pumpkin Objection. But deeper problems lie with his basic account of warrant.
Sticking with the theme of philosophy of religion, we move on to Helen De Cruz’s post “The Experiential Problem of Evil and Theodicy,” over at Prosblogion. Concerning the litmus test for theodicies, she writes,
Theodicies should not only offer a solution to the abstract problem, but should withstand scrutiny in the face of concrete, horrible instances of evil. and it seems that in concrete cases, theodicies not fare well. For it is one thing to argue that God did not intend the world as a pleasure-garden, but a challenging place fit for spiritual growth (as Hick proposed), quite another to maintain this in the face of concrete instances of evil.
Changing things up again, we move on to Peter Hurford’s post “Good and Ought as End Relative” over at Greatplay.net where he argues that “ought” may be defined such that it refers to the likelihood of something meeting a standard. On this he writes,
I also have proposed a definition of “ought” (and its cousins “can”, “could”, “might”, “may”, “should”, “will”, “must” and their related negatves) as a modal auxilary verb that expresses a likelihood of something being the case, including the likelihood of something meeting a standard. Both of these linguistic views also neatly account for distinctly moral goodness and moral commands as another standard to compare or express the likelihood of meeting. This view of “good” and “ought” is called end-relational theory, because it proposes that “good” and “ought” bothrelate things to ends, or standards of comparison.
Continuing in the normative vein, Eric Schwitzgebel at The Splintered Mind asks whether ethicists who advocate a certain position ought, in some sense, to live out such a position in “Animal Rights Advocate Eats Cheeseburger, So…What?” He concludes,
The ethicist is not setting aside her opinion that eating meat is wrong as she eats that cheeseburger. She does in fact conclude that eating the cheeseburger is wrong. However, she is unmoved by that conclusion. And to be unmoved by that conclusion is to fail in the first-personal task of ethics. A chemist who deliberately causes explosions at home might not be failing in any way as a chemist. But an ethicist who flouts her own vision of the moral law is, I would suggest, in some way, though perhaps not entirely, a failure as an ethicist.
Lastly, Lukeprog over at LessWrong argues that philosophy education is focusing on out-dated arguments and we should instead model our system of education on science in “Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant.” He writes,
Philosophical training should begin with the latest and greatest formal methods (“Pearl” for the probabilistic graphical models made famous in Pearl 1988), and the latest and greatest science (“Kahneman” for the science of human reasoning reviewed in Kahneman 2011). Beginning with Plato and Kant (and company), as most universities do today, both (1) filters for inexact thinkers, as Russell suggested, and (2) teaches people to have too much respect for failed philosophical methods that are out of touch with 20th century breakthroughs in math and science.
That’s it for this edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! The next edition, No.148 will be hosted at In Search of Logic on February 10th. You can submit posts for consideration, either your own or someone else’s here. See you then!
So experience itself, no less clearly than reason, teaches that men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.
-Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics