Saturday, April 20, 2013

John Stuart Mill, Ethics Notes

John Stuart Mill
not a traditional philosopher – not appointed, not given money
had a day job – worked for the British East India Company; dabbled in philosophy on the side
one of the last philosophers to really inquire about the breadth of human activity
he wrote Utilitarianism quite late
Utilitarianism, he argues, is a theory of normative human action
not just on morality
but anything that should or should not be done
wrote on political economy – the intersection two different ways which we determine the public good, the social wheel
comments on a variety of topics pertaining to sociology
wrote On Liberty, a utilitarian defense on liberty
society: a whole bunch of people, trying together
we can impede each other's liberty in innocent ways (by occupying space) or subtly (not always morally unquestionable)
we can punish each other by what we thing each other ought not be doing by social pressure
whispering, gossiping, not inviting you to a party, keeping my kids away from you
Mill says this is constraining each other's liberty
Mill saw this social pressure much more harmful than the law, because in society there is no defense, no even being silent, because silence implies guilt
reason does not govern these things, because you can't provide a reasoned defense
Mill: you ought to be free, and free to mess up you liberty – why is it valuable to me? Because your experiment keeps me from having to repeat it
On the Subjection of Women – an argument that women should be liberated, should have the right to vote
Aristotle's view on women has huge
Mill: depriving women of the things which are provided to men, is like taking a tree and pruning it to only grow in one direction
Mill is an empiricist – saw how women basically had no possibility to be what men are socially: but he asks: what is the great risk in allowing women to own property, to be equal to men?
The greatest risk in this experiment will be that men will lose their feeling of superiority
said: we no longer would have little boys growing up in a society where they would always be superior to ½ the population
Mill: what better test of the truth of my claim, then to allow you to go and be free
it is in my interest that you be free to go and try it out, so I can see how it works
and together we come to the truth
it is better to live with true beliefs than with false ones which haven't been tested
even though what you say might be hateful to me, in that moment it may not feel like I am better off for my liberty, but overall we are all better off to live in a society that is free
utility – that which has use or is useful
the value of a thing is measured by its usefulness
utility is to be measure in terms of social benefit
in between Hume and Mill, there was Jeremy Bentham
was a lifelong supporter of University College London
on the board of trustees
gave the university all of his belongings upon his death, on a condition, that the board never convene in his absence – his dead body is wheeled in for every meeting!
Society is nothing more than an aggregate of individuals
morality in society ought to be the same
individual benefit → in terms of pleasure & pain
pleasure – the absence of pain
the greatest good = the happiness/good/benefit for the most individuals affected
we ought to be after the maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain

Bentham supported University of London because it allowed almost anyone who could do the work to get an education; thought this was very progressive

JS Mill was basically genius – learned English and Greek very young, mathematics, published an economic review at age 12
raised by his father and Bentham
was reading Aristotle at age 8
believed he was no genius, but he had an environment in which he was stimulated in the right way
was a huge advocate of public education
society is deprived of an educated person when they happen to be born to parents who are not able to educate them
Bentham and JS Mill's parents wanted to show how effective a utilitarian education would be
for the sake of the child's individual flourishing and for the social benefit
up to age 21, he was an incredible advocate for the greater social good
at age 21, had a complete nervous breakdown
he credits poetry to bringing him back around
what was missing from his education was the arts side of human achievement
poetry draws out one's feelings, challenges you in your subjectivity, hits raw nerves because it forces you to see who you are; challenges you to see what the poet sees and to struggle with it / come to terms with it
this didn't turn him off of utilitarianism, but gave him a more refined appreciation of what it must be
Basic Tenants of Utilitarian Ethics
Each individual is equal to each other
what creates inequality is when we differentiate between individuals
the moral worth of each individual is no greater nor lesser than the moral worth as any other individual
Principle of Impartiality
needed for equality
the ascription of moral value or moral worth is not done on the basis of personal preference or feeling
that it is my pleasure/pain, makes it no more valuable than if it were your pleasure/pain
mine is morally irrelevant
this is a moral requirement to restrain natural inclinations
What is unequal are pleasures and pains
some pains are very intense, and some less – a broken bone is OUCH, a pinch is ouch
morally right action, to do the action which minimizes pain or maximizes pleasure
Bentham had 7 dimensions to determine the amount of pleasure
intensity, duration, fecundity (induces growth / more pleasure is created), propinquity (nearness in time between pleasure and action), etc.
doesn't matter if it's mine or yours
Bentham thought it was moral to include animals as well
JS Mill thought what was missing was liberty and an 8th distinction, and that is the experience of quality
the quality of pleasure matters greatly
how can one judge quality without it becoming a matter of class or education or refinement
if all you can afford to drink is Budweiser in a can, how can you say it is a better beer than Newcastle does one judge quality?
why should it be that working people can only afford Budweiser? Why is the good stuff only served in the snoody places
“better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied”
making a pig happy would be giving it some half-rotten slop
because Socrates is capable of so much higher quality pleasures
Mill believes this qualitative distinction of pleasures will strengthen utilitarianism
“give me a moral reason why people should be happy living with this crap”
if the means to improve one's life are kept away from the lower class, how can they be expected to change?
To judge quality: need a qualified judge
Mill believed quality can be judged objectively
while pleasures and pains are experienced subjectively, it is possible to judge them objectively
ex. at the doctors, how much does this hurt, on the scale of one to ten
who are qualified judges: find those who have experienced broadly
if all you ever know is Sac State, how can you judge this school?
if a society impedes individuals from gaining the exposure and the experience from gaining its bredth, then it is a society which is failing, because it cripples its members
they are denied the opportunity to become qualified judges
therefore, individual liberty is primary – you can't even get off the ground as a moral agent unless you are free to experience life as you wish
how can a person be morally incompetent to make decisions in their own life but be expected to be morally competent when acting toward other people
The cornerstone of justice: Liberty
our preferences are dramatically influenced by our expectations – and Mill advocated this to be wrong
if we are advocating equality, we must include liberty
women's equality
if you believe you are superior to somebody, and you never ever have to test yourself, then that is based on ignorance or denial
so let's test it
wouldn't you be more free if you knew you were 'superior' by testing it?
it is in one's best interest to know the truth
Mill advocated competition in every realm because it brings out the best, allowing individuals to flourishing
if experience is limited, a person is ignorant
how can you be #1 if you are afraid to test it?
so...Liberty must be primary for people to be sure about the truth of their beliefs!
dogmatic beliefs are not this way

Principle of Equality (Principle of Primafacie Equality)
at first face, equality
this principle of equality may just be primafacia; there may be reason to treat individuals unequally, though they are of equal worth
Principle of Impartiality
a requirement that we be impartial when we make moral assessments and judgments
we disregard irrelevant/morally irrelevant differences between us
ex. that it is my pleasure or your pleasure makes no matter
ex. would you kill your mother to save a million people? Mill says it doesn't matter if it is your mother or your neighbor's mother, or if it is even you or your neighbor that must make the decision
if it is right to kill your mother, it must be right to do regardless of whether it is your mother
we must be impartial to all people
if it is right for your child, then it is right for my child, and visa-versa
*(the overarching principle)* is the Principle of Utility
which requires we act so as to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for all affected
utility – benefit, usually measured in an empirical measure
Act utilitarianism vs. Rule utilitarianism
ACT – in each individual moment I ought to calculate which will maximize pleasure, minimize pain
child X (my child) must be  justified in getting benefit B over child Y
whether the child is mine or not mine is not morally relevent
the principle of Utility is supervening
principles are fairly abstract general guides which we can use to figure out what we ought to do
principles are like rules, just more general and abstract
'do that which benefits the most affected'
principle: 'bear no false witness'
rule: 'don't lie to the police'
the principle of utility is most broad because it applies across all actions
by looking at the course of human history, when individuals are allowed to be partial, they treat each other unequally, and when they treat each other unequally, that is to the detriment, or disutility, of everyone involved
treating each other as equals is to the greater benefit of everybody
he also has the harm principle – supports his idea of liberty
no individual ought to be interfered with except to prevent harm to others
(consent & non-consent)
the principle of utility requires that individuals be free to do whatever they wish to do up to the point that it harms others
self regarding actions + other regarding actions
harm principle: if I'm only gonna hurt myself, then I ought to do it, because I will learn, but if I do not want to learn, then I want to be hurt, and I ought to be allowed to continue
however, if a person consents to be hurt
consent – acknowledging the consequences which may come by acting in such a way are part of acting
self-regarding actions – actions which only affect oneself
Not all violations of the principle of utility are wrong
wrong – worth of punishment
sometimes we don't have all the information which we need to judge which of the possible actions would truly maximize and truly minimize
and if we don't know, through no fault of our own – I tried everything I could to access the best information – then though I may have acted against the principle of utility, I was acting rightly because I was at least following the principle of utility
mill wants to allow that what you did was a violation of the principle of utility, but it was not wrong – because either nature will punish me, or the consequences of the action will be punishment enough
punishment – when other moral agents restrain you, stop you, impose disutility upon you; punishment is warrented in the case of willful disregard to the principle of utility
for Hume, justice is only applicable between equals, and consists of some disutility to society
mill refines this injustice slightly: not only must it be wrong, but it must be a violation of rights
right – valid claim an individual has to social protection
to be protected in freedom of whatever the claim is to
if you have a right, it much first be recognized possible/ought for you to do
and it is based in our utility
rights, when violated, constitute an injustice – if you are free to think whatever you want, and I steal all of your sad-news mail so that you only see the happy side of things, I have violated your right to believe what you wish to believe by my action of preventing you to have information
if it's a right, you have a claim against society to protect you in enjoying that right, and society is right to stop the right violator
a right is valid, it occurs regardless of the circumstances
even if the consequences are terrible if I exercise this right
i.e. contrary to utility
why would we allow people to have rights, in a society governed by utility?
Because it is beneficial to society to do it
I will protect you to believe and think and say what you wish and change your mind because it is in our best interest to let you be free; we can learn from you and you can learn from you
if we had a rule: do not violate the rights of others
such that these things called rights (which may themselves be rules)
does following that rule better maximize utility?
Can society allow you to violate your own rights? yes
rights must be few – too many and they may conflict, and have huge costs – which may be dis utility
right to life?
Is actively violating someone's right on par with not helping someone live?
Acts of commission vs. acts of omission

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