In Mill's Utilitarianism, he attempts to layout groundwork which removed subjectivity from the good in a thing. When I read this, it just seems like he's naysaying his relationship to the virtues laid out by Aristotle.

Why does Mill think his view does not work out to just being an application of Aristotle's virtue?

  • Two people can agree on what and not on why... Aristotle does not put any consistent theory behind his virtues, they are self-motivated by perceived final cause. Mill suggests utility is a reason why virtues are virtuous, and that we should look at efficient rather than final causes as a way to put our logic on a more testable ground.
    – user9166
    Apr 14 '16 at 15:05
  • @jobermark but in both cases the utilmate "good" in a thing never gets beyond a self-defined nature. I can attempt to draw back and say the cause is something a priori (or even transcendental, as in beyond the comprehension of a mind) but the closer I inspect the claim the closer a conclusion comes to being defined by the individual ethical authority. Mills claims to escape this, which is the end problem with virtue ethics, subjectivity, but I don't see how he does. Apr 14 '16 at 17:47
  • Utilitarians imagine that you can measure happiness -- or that we will some day be able to do so objectively. So then what people guess are virtues can be tested according to whether they actually make people happier in the long run. You can validate final cause by tracing efficient cause with measures. (Of course, you can't. But that is the theory behind utilitarianism and classical economics.)
    – user9166
    Apr 14 '16 at 17:51
  • I've tried to edit your question to fix some issues with the English and clarify the question.
    – virmaior
    Apr 15 '16 at 1:32

There's two things at work here that I think help explain how Mill is not merely providing an expression of Aristotle. (You can also look at "pleasure" vs "happiness" and What is the causal connection between virtues and eudaimonea in virtue ethics? )

For one thing, it's not clear that Aristotle and Mill agree about the nature of happiness. One hint is that Mill seems to identify happiness with pleasure. For Aristotle, pain and pleasure signal right and wrong but only for the phronemos (man with practical wisdom) (NE Book 2). What Aristotle means by "happiness" is eudaimonia, a concept that invokes both "happiness" and "flourishing" and other things at the same time. In other words, it should not be identified with pain and pleasure.

At the same time, Mill does distinguish between two types of pleasure in Utilitarianism. One type of pleasure is "base" and the other "noble". But at least in my view, there's little argumentation in support of this claim in Mill's account. (Looking at it historically, this is an evolution to fix a problem with Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism where pleasure/pain are not differentiated at all -- so everyone getting drunk every night may be the best way to maximize happiness for the most people).

The second issue is that Mill is committed to a calculative approach to morality, "the moral calculus." In contrast, Aristotle is committed to a reasoned approach to morality. It seems doubtful he thinks it can be calculated (even if it involves moderations between extremes and "fit" to one's own nature).

To reword the second claim I'm making, Aristotle is committed in part to saying regular people cannot simply calculate morality. Instead, what is right is somewhat opaque to them because they act from confused signals and poor upbringing. To know what to do rightly requires being a phronemos. For Mill, right courses of action are apparent because we just need to calculate what will bring about the most pleasure (of the right kind), which he doesn't propose to be a daunting task available only to a few.

These two considerations aside, Mill might say he's just perfecting Aristotle. After all, his claim regarding Jesus is that if/since Jesus is doing good, Jesus is maximizing pleasure for the most number (I think this is in Utilitarianism chapter 4 but I could be off on the chapter).

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