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The Logic and Mill's Infamous Proof in Utilitarianism
Dan Yim
a
a
Bethal University,
To cite this Article Yim, Dan'The Logic and Mill's Infamous Proof in Utilitarianism', British Journal for the History of
Philosophy, 16: 4, 773 — 788
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ARTICLE
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S INFAMOUS PROOF IN
UTILITARIANISM
Dan Yim
INTRODUCTION
In a footnote to the final chapter of Book VI of the Logic, where Mill
distinguishes science and art, he connects the distinction in the Logic to the
non-standard proof of the principle of utility in Utilitarianism.
1
The
distinction between science and art is a key to interpreting Mill’s non-
standard proof for the Principle of Utility in Utilitarianism. Though Mill has
available a method to discharge his non-standard proof in Utilitarianism, it
is not quite clear what that method is. In what follows, I offer an
interpretation of Mill’s non-standard proof that capitalizes on this
distinction in the Logic. First, I offer a Millian characterization of science,
art, and their interrelations. Second, I offer a definition of the Principle of
Utility. Third, I investigate the notorious passages in Utilitarianism in light
of the interrelationships between science and art on the one hand, and the
parity of reasoning in the Logic and Utilitarianism on the other.
I. SCIENCE AND ART: THE LOGIC
According to Mill, science and art are intimately related.
The relation in which rules of art stand to doctrines of science may be thus
characterised. The art proposes to itself an end to be attained, defines the end,
and hands it over to the science. The science receives it, considers it as a
phenomenon or effect to be studied, and having investigated its causes and
conditions, sends it back to art with a theorem of the combination of
circumstances by which it could be produced. Art then examines these
combinations of circumstances, and according as any of them are or are not in
human power, pronounces the end attainable or not. The only one of the
1
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, eighth edition (London: Longmans, Green & Company,
1961), Book VI, Chapter XII, x7.
British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16(4) 2008: 773–788
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
ISSN 0960-8788 print/ISSN 1469-3526 online ª 2008 BSHP
http://www.informaworld.com DOI: 10.1080/09608780802407530
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premises, therefore, which Art supplies is the original major premise, which
asserts that the attainment of the given end is desirable. Science then lends to
Art the proposition (obtained by a series of inductions or of deductions) that
the performance of certain actions will attain the end. From these premises Art
concludes that the performance of these actions is desirable, and finding it also
practicable, converts the theorem into a rule or precept.
2
By ‘art’, Mill means to include any social practice that is aimed at some end.
This characterization of the relation between science and art is general; it is
designed to apply to all types of science and art. Earlier in the Logic, Mill
provides an ambitious example of how he thinks this is supposed to work:
political economy.
3
Political economy takes as its first principle the end of
greater financial gain over lesser financial gain. This end is desired more or
less generally as a matter of psychological law. Empirically, this is evident in
the industrial or productive operations of mankind. An idealized social
science, combined with an idealized psychological science, could predict the
causal conditions for the actual realization of the desired end of financial
gain. The key point is that these idealized social and psychological sciences
would provide practical guidelines for the realization of the end of ‘the art of
political economy’. The first principle would be a matter solely in the ken of
the art of political economy. The causally reasoned procedures of activity,
when applied to the actual behaviour of agents in the art of political
economy, would be the doctrines of political economy – viz., the secondary
principles composed of the rules, precepts and maxims of conduct in that
art.
4
Mill’s example, however, does not quite showcase the relationships
between the prescriptive and descriptive roles of art and science. It does not
adequately indicate the way that a first principle of art is created, how a
corresponding science steps in as a consultant, or how secondary principles
are created.
2
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter XII, x1. Mill never clarifies whether he
thinks this collaborative process between Science and Art actually occurs in history. As it
stands, the collaboration between Science and Art could be taken either as a theoretical
construct (such as the State of Nature for several political theorists) or as a true story of how
first principles are generated. If the latter, further ambiguities remain. For example, does the
affirmation of the first principle occur only after the science has deemed the pursuit of the end in
question practically possible? If so, then it seems that science would have to be robustly
advanced to judge of these matters with any accuracy. In cases where there is not a developed
science corresponding to the many art-forms available, are the first principles of those arts to be
followed at all? These are perplexing issues which arise due to Mill’s highly abstract
characterization of the relation between Science and Art.
3
Ibid., Book VI, Chapter IX, x3.
4
Realistically, the calculation is astoundingly complex, maybe even impossible. Mill suggests
that alternative possibilities for the direction of social progress be provisionally overlooked for
the sake of the initial calculations. This pragmatic limitation may appear artificial, but it puts
limits on how many contingency provisions appear in the initial round of calculations.
774 DAN YIM
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Perhaps another example will clarify the relationship between science, art
and the properties of first principles. Consider the art of highway
navigation. Highway navigation, as an art, assumes or affirms the human
desire for efficient transportation.
5
Based on that desire component, the art
of navigation provisionally proposes to itself an end: speediest arrival at the
destination point of a journey. The art of highway navigation then consults
the appropriate corresponding sciences. The corresponding sciences (say,
civil and traffic engineering) receive the proposed end and examine it as an
object of causal analysis. The sciences investigate the possible and actual
highway conditions required for such an end to be realized. The sciences
then determine the most efficient causal pathways that must be followed in
order to realize the end with the least delay. Given that the proposed end is
speediest travel, the sciences recommend particular highways and transitions
to use as well as avoid. The work of the sciences is complete. The art of
highway navigation examines these recommendations from the sciences and
reconsiders whether or not the provisional end really is a matter of enduring
human desire, since only that feature of the end can adequately motivate
behaviour in accord with the recommendations. If the proposed end is not
judged to be a matter of enduring desire, then the provisional first principle
is abandoned or amended. If the proposed end is affirmed as a matter of
enduring desire, then the art of navigation, after this final deliberative
process, engages in a dual promotion. The recommended actions from the
sciences are promoted to the level of doctrinal secondary principles (rules
and precepts conducive to the desired end), and the provisional first
principle is promoted to the level of first principle proper. These promotions
are creative social acts, bringing into being precepts of art.
The reasoning process that eventuates in first principles of conduct as well
as secondary principles, although genuinely rational, is neither purely a
matter of a-priori intuitive inferences between concepts, nor a purely
empirical scientific enterprise. While it is true that the data for art and
science is the same, there is a difference in the interpretive frameworks that
shape the presentation of that data.
6
According to Mill, the framework
peculiar to science is a presentation most auspicious for calculations about
the causal structure of phenomena. The arrangement peculiar to art is a
presentation most auspicious for social practice – viz., specifications of
conduct conducive to the realization of desirable ends. The collaboration of
these frameworks results in first and secondary principles.
In all particular cases of art and at the most general level of art,
7
the most
important property of a first principle is the desire component. For Mill, this
5
For sake of this example, one should hold fixed the desire only for maximally efficient
transportation while ignoring the collateral desires for sightseeing, etc.
6
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter XII, x5.
7
I will now follow Mill in capitalizing ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ when he is speaking of them at the
most general level. This is Mill’s way of speaking in Platonic mode (without the Platonism).
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 775
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is a test that any provisional first principle must pass before it is promoted to
the level of first principle proper. At the most general level of art, the first
principle has the basic form:
Y is desirable as an end.
Particular arts with particular first principles differ only in the specification
of the content of Y. Mill offers some characterization of this most general
level of art, and it is the yet-to-be-created, idealized construct: the Art of
Life.
8
The Art of Life exemplifies a paradigm form of a first principle that all
other forms of first principles should resemble.
The Art of Life divides neatly into three major departments: aesthetics,
policy and morality. Each of these divisions themselves have multiple sub-
divisions, forming a hierarchy of arts. Since the Art of Life itself is an
instance of art, it defines and proposes its end in virtue of its affirmation of
the desire-component of its peculiar first principle of the aforementioned
form. It is the supreme art to which all other arts must conform. This is
tantamount to claiming that the Y-specification of the first principle of the
Art of Life is normative for all other arts’ specific content specifications of
Y. Thus, the form and content specification of the Art of Life turns out to be
contingent, but normative for all other arts. Again:
Y is desirable as an end.
It remains to determine what Y is in the Art of Life. Mill suggests that the
promotion of happiness is the standard or general first principle of conduct.
He claims that it is his conviction, but he refuses either to justify the claim or
to suggest of what sort of justification the claim may admit.
9
The logical
form par excellence for the Art of Life to which all other arts must
ultimately conform is:
(F) Happiness is desirable as an end.
The implication is that all other forms of art must be analysable in their Y-
specifications by reference to happiness. Mill means by ‘happiness’ the same
things as ‘the good’. Both of these terms co-refer to pleasure and freedom
from pain. He uses these co-referential terms interchangeably throughout
his argument in Utilitarianism.
10
8
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter XII, x6.
9
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter XII, x7.
10
D. G. Brown, ‘What is Mill’s Principle of Utility’, in Mill’s Utilitarianism, edited by David
Lyons (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997) 13; Wendy Donner, ‘Mill’s Utilitarianism’, in
The Cambridge Companion to Mill, edited by John Skorupski (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998) 255–92; Andy Hamilton, ‘Mill, Phenomenalism, and the Self’, in The
Cambridge Companion to Mill, edited by John Skorupski (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1998) 139–75; Robert W. Hoag, ‘Mill’s Conception of Happiness as an Inclusive End’,
776 DAN YIM
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One might expect Mill to offer more support for F.
11
Surely, one should
not demand a mathematical proof for F, but one can ask for something
more by way of explanation. Perhaps there is an indirect line of thought that
may help explain F. It is indirect in that it approaches the paradigm art first
through what might be the corresponding Science. In dealing with human
beings, there is for Mill a first science. That first science is a non-reductive
psychology which involves fundamental psychological laws with irreducible
psychological concepts and properties.
12
From the base psychological
science, a full-scale moral science can be developed. The top-layer is
sociology (or social science) and the middle layer is what Mill termed
ethology. This full-scale moral science is an idealized construct with
psychology, ethology and sociology as constituents. The relationship
between these levels is one of lawlike correlation, causation, explanation
and prediction.
13
Moral science is simply the idealized, future replac-
ement of vague generalizations about individual and corporate human
conduct with precise predictive laws that relate the three levels of human
society into a seamless, theoretical whole of causal relations. This is the
highest, most general level of science with respect to human conduct in
human society. As such, perhaps it appropriately corresponds to the Art of
Life.
It is no disparagement, therefore, to the sciences of Human Nature that those
of its general propositions which descend sufficiently into detail to serve as a
foundation for predicting phenomena in the concrete are for the most part
only approximately true. But in order to give a genuinely scientific character to
the study, it is indispensable that these approximate generalizations, which in
themselves would amount only to the lowest kind of empirical laws, should be
connected deductively with the laws of nature from which they result; should
be resolved into the properties of the causes on which the phenomena depend.
In other words, the science of Human Nature may be said to exist, in
proportion as the approximate truths, which compose a practical knowledge
of mankind, can be exhibited as corollaries from the universal laws of human
nature on which they rest; whereby the proper limits of those approximate
425; Henry R. West, ‘Mill’s ‘Proof’ of the Principle of Utility’, in Mill’s Utilitarianism, edited by
David Lyons (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997) 87; Fred Wilson, ‘Psychology and the
Moral Sciences’, in The Cambridge Companion to Mill, edited by John Skorupski (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998) 203–54. That Mill must take these terms to co-refer to an
experience is strictly implied by his commitment to phenomenalism and ethical naturalism. Mill
has a complex view of the experience of pleasure. It is not limited to any localizable sensation of
the body or the inner sense. Rather, it is a property, sometimes ineffable, of a complex mental
experience. The pleasure admits of degrees and nuances which may be barely detectable.
11
While it is true that Mill places the footnote reference to Utilitarianism just at this point, I am
primarily interested in what he might have said relative to the resources of his Logic. The
examination of Utilitarianism comes later.
12
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter IV, x3; Chapter 5, x1; Chapter 6, x2;
John Skorupski, John Stuart Mill (London: Routledge, 1989) 249, 259–64.
13
The complex interrelationships among the levels parallel the complex interrelationships
among the three departments of the Art of Life: aesthetics, policy and morality.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 777
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truths would be shown, and we should be enabled to deduce others for any
new state of circumstances, in anticipation of specific experience.
14
Suppose the Art of Life provisionally proposes as its end the pursuit of
happiness – viz., the experience of complex qualities of pleasure. The only
candidate for the corresponding Science for the development of theorems at
such a high level of generality would be the theoretical moral science. It is
the only Millian candidate that resembles the generality and idealization of
the Art of Life. The moral science receives the content of the end – viz., the
pursuit of happiness, and examines that proposed end as an object of causal
analysis. Moral Science investigates the possible and actual human
conditions required for such an end to be realized in the material world at
the current stage of human and social evolution. The Moral Science
determines the most efficient causal pathways in the divisions of the
psychological, ethological and sociological domains that must be traversed
in order to realize the end most efficiently. Given that the proposed end is
pleasure, the Moral Science recommends theorems of human activities,
governmental institutions, educational programmes and habituation strate-
gies for the general attainment of the complex experiences of pleasure. The
work of moral science is complete. The Art of Life examines these
recommendations and judges whether or not the provisional end really is a
matter of enduring human desire, since only such a feature of the end could
motivate behaviour in accord with the recommendations. If the proposed
end is not judged to be a matter of enduring desire, then the provisional first
principle is abandoned or amended. If the proposed end is affirmed as a
matter of enduring desire, then the Art of Life, after this deliberative
process, promotes the theorems to the level of doctrinal secondary principles
and confirms the provisional first principle, promoting it to the level of first
principle proper. Once these promotions takes place, their prescriptive force
is created.
Could this general relationship between science and art function as
an interpretive framework for the non-standard proof Mill offers in
Utilitarianism?
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY (P)
P is the basis of Mill’s utilitarianism. He offers a non-standard proof of P, in
relation to the moral domain. The logical architecture of science and art
provides Mill with a method to discharge the challenge of the non-standard
proof for P in the moral domain. The first step is to define P in the context of
Utilitarianism.
14
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter III, x2.
778 DAN YIM
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Mill apparently offers two versions of P – both in chapter II of
Utilitarianism. They appear non-equivalent due to an ambiguity in the first
instance of P. When the ambiguity is clarified, the two instances indeed
appear consistent, even equivalent.
15
A natural, initial way of taking P in the first instance in chapter II is to
conceive of it as an irreducible moral principle. On this rendering, P
fundamentally provides a criterion by which to distinguish right and wrong
actions. The making of moral distinctions would then be the primary job
description of P, and its semantic content would be irreducibly moral.
The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest
Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to
promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness,
pain, and the privation of pleasure. To give a clear view of the moral standard
set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular what things it
includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an
open question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory
of life on which this theory of morality is grounded – namely, that pleasure,
and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all
desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other
scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as
means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.
16
This natural, initial way of taking P in the first instance is deceptive. Certainly,
utilitarianism, qua moral theory, raises a moral standard. Utilitarianism, qua
moral theory, may claim ultimate grounding on P. It does not follow,
however, that P is identical with the moral theory called utilitarianism. Still, it
is not yet clear that Mill denies that P is irreducibly moral.
A way of taking P in the second instance in chapter II is to conceive of it
as a generic statement about the ultimate end for the sake of which all things
are desirable.
According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained, the
ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are
desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is
an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in
enjoyment, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the
rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who,
in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits
of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means
of comparison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of
15
D. G. Brown, ‘What is Mill’s Principle of Utility’, 10–12; Shia Moser, ‘A Comment on Mill’s
Argument for Utilitarianism’, Inquiry, 6 (Winter 1963) 310.
16
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, edited by John Gray
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 137.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 779
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human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may
accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the
observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the
greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so
far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.
17
This way of taking P in the second instance is to be preferred. Pleasure and
the freedom from pain are (ultimately) desirable as ends. The form may be
expressed as such:
(P) Pleasure and freedom from pain are (ultimately) desirable as ends.
Mill takes himself to offer a characterization of P that is equivalent to
the first instance. Equivalence is not possible if either the first
instance essentially invokes moral properties, or the primary job
description of P is the making of moral distinctions between right and
wrong actions.
Either P is an irreducibly moral principle with irreducible moral content,
or P is a generic principle, when applied to the specific domain of morality,
generates a utilitarian moral theory. If P is an irreducibly moral statement,
then Mill is theoretically inconsistent within the span of five pages, and he
does not catch himself at this, even though he avows the consistency of the
two instances. There is an additional incongruity. This first rendering would
defeat the Millian project of an ethical naturalism at the very first step. On
the second rendering, Mill is consistent and achieves equivalence between
the two instances.
Prima facie, then, for reasons of charity, the generic rendering is to be
favoured. Additionally, the direction of Mill’s argument in Chapter IV is
better explained against the generic rendering. Further justification accrues
to this rendering in light of a textual feature of the Logic. The footnote in the
Logic directs readers specifically to Utilitarianism for a defence and
vindication of F.
18
This is as near a demonstration as can be given, relative
to exegetical considerations.
Whether upholding the second rendering of P is ultimately plausible
is a matter to investigate. To progress towards an answer, let the
second rendering stand as a hypothesis to be tested against the relevant
textual evidence in Utilitarianism. Can the hypothesis explain the
textual data individually and holistically in chapters I and IV of
Utilitarianism?
17
Ibid., 142.
18
John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, Chapter XII, x7.
780 DAN YIM
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III. UTILITARIANISM TEXTS
Several textual observations are in order. The first task is to disambiguate
what Mill means by ‘proof’ of P. The second is to relate morality and life.
The third is to examine how the first two tasks play a role in discharging the
purposes of Mill’s proof.
The most important data for the first task is found in chapter I of
Utilitarianism. Chapter I helps set the hermeneutic boundary conditions for
the exegesis and philosophical merit of chapter IV.
On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of the other
theories, attempt to contribute something towards the understanding and
appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and towards such proof as
it is susceptible of. It is evident that this cannot be proof in the ordinary and
popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to
direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown
to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical
art is proved to be good, by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to
prove that heath is good? The art of music is good, for the reason, among
others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that
pleasure is good? If it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula,
including all things which are in themselves good, and that what ever else is
good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or
rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are
not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind
impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in
which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions
of philosophy. The subject is within the cognizance of the rational faculty; and
neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition.
Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either
to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof
[my emphasis].
19
There are proofs, and there are proofs. Let ‘proof
1
’ denote the direct proof
and ‘proof
2
’ denote Mill’s larger sense of proof.
If a proof
1
is offered for X, X is thereby proved to be causally conducive
to an end Y. X is proved to be good by showing that it causally contributes
to Y’s realization, where Y is admitted to be good without proof
1
.
20
Mill
gives the example of the medical arts, which are susceptible to proof
1
as
genuinely contributing causally to health. Health itself is admitted to be
19
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 134–5.
20
Mill introduces a new term, ‘good’, to co-refer to happiness and pleasure. The introduction of
a new term is meant to be innocuous. Henry West, ‘Mill’s ‘‘Proof’’ of the Principle of Utility’,
87.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 781
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good without proof
1
. Why, however, is health admitted to be a good
without proof
1
? What is the explanation? The explanation is that health
is a first principle of the medical arts, and first principles in arts are
stipulated, examined by the corresponding science for analysis of causal
conditions, and promoted by the art to the level of first principle proper.
It is parallel to the dialectic between art and science from Mill’s Logic.
Mill then offers an example using the musical arts that supposedly is on
par with health. The musical arts are susceptible to proof
1
as genuinely
contributing to pleasure. Pleasure itself is admitted to be good without
proof
1
.
Health and pleasure function like ends, relative to their respective arts.
These F-instances are not susceptible to proof
1
. They are admitted to be
good without proof
1
, but they are not arbitrary. They are susceptible to
the larger sense of proof
2
. Determining how Mill conceives of proof
2
requires a characterization of what he means by an ultimate end being
‘admitted to be good without proof’, where he means admission in the
absence of proof
1
.
Mill has provided just this sort of characterization in the Logic. Proof
2
just is the complex relationship between a given art and a corresponding
science in the promotion of a provisional first principle to the level of
first principle proper. The admission of some end as good according to
proof
2
, while genuinely a cognitive process is not entirely a matter of
theoretical or scientific reason. Fundamentally, the base property of a
given first principle is the desire component. For Mill, if the process were
entirely a matter of pure reason, any result of such an inquiry would
result in the language of indicatives and theorems – viz., proof
1
. When
one is dealing with admissions of goods, one is dealing with imperatives
based on desires, and this is the language of art from the Logic. Proof
2
consists of the considerations Mill adduces for determining the intellect
one way or another. These abductions determine the intellect in the
promotion of a provisional first principle to the level of first principle
proper – viz., the final affirmation stage of a desire in the dialectic
between science and art. That is the basis of his method for discharging
the non-standard proof of P.
This basis both illustrates and is clarified by the way that Mill thinks he
offers a theory of morality. What is the relationship between the theory of
morality and the theory of life on which it is grounded?
To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more
requires to be said; in particular what things it includes in the ideas of pain and
pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question. But these
supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this
theory of morality is grounded – namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain,
are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as
numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the
782 DAN YIM
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pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and
the prevention of pain [my emphasis].
21
The ‘theory of life’ is ambiguous in the textual context of Utilitarianism
alone, but it is much clearer when interpreted in light of the context of the
Logic. The theory of life has something to do with pleasure and pain. The
theory of life is the first principle of the Art of Life. The theory of life:
(F) Happiness is desirable as an end.
What might the relationship between F and utilitarianism be?
The specific relation is an instance of that general relation between art and
science. The specific art in this case is morality. The corresponding specific
science is psychology. That the psychological science is the appropriate
corresponding science to the moral art gains justification from later
paragraphs of the same section of Utilitarianism, where Mill responds to a
potential defeater for the utilitarian theory.
22
One potential defeater is the
objection that happiness cannot be attained. Mill responds in three ways.
First, he disambiguates what happiness involves. He concedes that if
‘happiness’ refers to a constant state of rapturous delight, then of course
such an existence is not possible. No one, however, conceives of happiness in
that manner. To attempt to defeat utilitarianism on that count is to argue
against a strawman. Rather, happiness is an overall quality of experiences in
a life suffused with a temperate, rational perspective.
The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of
such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various
pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and
having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is
capable of bestowing.
23
Second, he appeals to history, claiming that even less than this modest level
of happiness has been experienced to the contentment of great numbers of
people. He isolates two properties of mental life which account for the
ability to rest content with modest levels of happiness: tranquillity and
excitement. The former quality supplements what may lack in terms of vivid
pleasure. The latter quality galvanizes an agent to withstand episodes of
pain. The combination of these two mental experiences allows the majority
of humankind to experience lives of contentment, although those lives may
fall below a preferred threshold of happiness. This is not to excuse such a
state of affairs, and indeed Mill would claim that improvement is a worthy
21
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 137.
22
Ibid., 143–6.
23
Ibid., 144.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 783
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goal. The historico-psychological analysis is only to rebut the objector who
claims that happiness is not attainable. Third, those who do not benefit from
the combination of tranquillity and excitement are those who suffer from a
combination of selfishness and retarded mental cultivation. Persons who
exemplify these psychological defects are morally different than persons who
are able both to identify their own interests with the interests of others and
to entertain thoughts about beauty, nature, poetry, philosophy, and history.
These latter persons open themselves up to lives of happiness; the former do
not.
Thus, Mill certainly thinks that a historic, descriptive examination of the
corresponding science of psychology may provide answers to questions
about the attainability of an end in the moral art.
24
Given that the art is morality and the corresponding science psychology,
how does the interchange between them proceed? The moral art
provisionally proposes its first principle:
(P) Pleasure and freedom from pain are (ultimately) desirable as ends.
P is examined by the corresponding science of psychology for the possible
and actual causal conditions for the realization of pleasure and the
avoidance of pain. The moral art assesses the desires and resolve of humans
to pursue these ends and satisfy their causal conditions. Given that the
moral art judges that the recommended activities are feasible, the moral art
performs the requisite promotions. First, the moral art promotes the
provisional principle to the level of first moral principle proper, and second,
the moral art promotes the recommended activities from the psychological
science to the level of doctrinal secondary principles. Hence, moral
prescriptions emerge from the dual conversion of the provisional first
principle to a confirmed first principle and the recommended scientific
indicatives to the doctrinal secondary imperatives.
In the beginning of chapter IV of Utilitarianism, Mill hearkens back to
chapter I. This is the section to which Mill refers readers of the Logic for a
vindication of F.
It has already been remarked, that questions of ultimate ends do not admit of
proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. To be incapable of proof by
reasoning is common to all first principles; to the first premises of our
knowledge, as well as to those of our conduct. But the former, being matters of
fact, may be the subject of direct appeal to the faculties which judge of fact –
namely, our senses and our internal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to
the same faculties on questions of practical ends? Or by what other faculty is
cognizance taken of them? Questions about ends are, in other words, questions
24
That the best candidate for the corresponding science is psychology receives further
justification from the several claims Mill makes in Utilitarianism for a psychologically veridical
representation of the data he adduces.
784 DAN YIM
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about what things are desirable. The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is
desirable, and the only things desirable, as an end; all other things being only
desirable as means to that end. What ought to be required of this doctrine –
what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine should fulfil – to make good its
claim to be believed? [my emphasis]
25
Mill’s project is to argue for the matter emphasized in the above quoted
passage. His method is to argue that F-instances of the most important
sub-categories of the moral arts are susceptible to proof
1
as causally
contributing to the Y-specification of the utilitarian moral art’s first
principle P.
26
This entire project is an integral part of proof
2
for P. For a
proposed first principle to be promoted to precept-status, it must pass
one test, two if need be. First, it must pass muster in the dialectic
between science and art. Second, if need be, it must demonstrate
explanatory superiority over competitors, since there can only be one first
principle in a given domain of art. This second test is just a specific
iteration of the dialectic between science and art. If P can be shown to be
genuinely deserving of its status as the first principle of the moral arts,
then the prescriptive force of the first principle is thereby vindicated,
since the prescription emerges from the appropriate promotion to the
level of first principle proper. The promotion is justified since P has the
properties one would expect of a true analysans of all conceptions of F-
instance in the moral domain.
Mill gives two lines of argument for the promotion of P. First, he claims
that happiness is an end. It is a straightforward empirical claim about what
persons desire. This establishes happiness as a possible first principle of the
moral arts.
This leads him to his second argument in which he argues that happiness
is the end which underlies all other mediating causes or alleged ends in the
moral domain. This argument is more complex, and if successful, discharges
the task of proof
2
by arguing that all mediate ends ultimately serve the Y-
specification of P – viz., happiness and freedom from pain.
The first obstacle is a set of apparent counterexamples to the Y-
specification of P.
27
Is it not the case that the pursuit of virtue and its
attainment in character are ends which have no necessary connection to
pleasure – viz., that they are independent ends? In fact, do those ends not
require sacrifice and discipline, both of which either rule out some measure
of pleasure or even require some degree of pain? Mill responds by
broadening the Y-specification of P.
28
Happiness is not to be conceived of as
25
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 168.
26
That P is identical to F explains why Mill refers readers of the Logic to this portion of
Utilitarianism.
27
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 169.
28
Ibid., 170.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 785
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one particular kind of experience. It is, rather, a complex whole experience.
He then provides a genealogy of the elements involved in the complex
experience of happiness.
29
They originally come to be parts of the complex
whole only through their psychological association with pleasure or
avoidance of pain. In an instructive, earlier portion of Utilitarianism, Mill
gives the example of virtuous heroes.
30
He concedes that there have been
persons of high moral character who have lived lives devoid of happiness
or pleasure. Mill, however, suggests an explanation. These persons of high
moral character voluntarily forego their own pleasure or happiness for the
sake of something that they value more. What they value more is directed
towards two parameters: (a) it is directed to the present and future
happiness of other persons, and (b) it is directed to the present and future
realization of additional conditions requisite for the happiness of others.
Mill anticipates the rejoinder that the persons of high moral character
voluntarily undergo such sacrifice for the sake of virtue itself. He
concedes that the self-sacrifice surely must have some end. Self-sacrifice
for the sake of self-sacrifice is not a serious candidate for an end. Mill
asks whether the person of high moral character would make the sacrifice
if he did not believe that such a sacrifice would secure for other persons
the immunity from similar events of pain. Mill takes the answer to be
obvious. Thus, Mill claims that virtue and the absence of vice are
analysable according to the Y-specification of P. If Mill is right, then he
has subsumed a major, rival F-instance in the domain of moral art to his
P – a task strictly in line with his proof
2
– where proof
2
just is the
demonstration that rival Y-specifications are really analyzable according
to the Y-specification of P.
31
Mill closes the argument with a conditional statement. The
conditional statement can be verified only through observation of self and
others. If the verification comes back positive, then the argument is
discharged.
We have now, then, an answer to the question, of what sort of proof the
principle of utility is susceptible. If the opinions which I have now stated is
psychologically true – if human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing
which is not either a part of happiness or a means of happiness, we can have no
other proof, and we require no other, that these are the only things desirable.
If so, happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the
test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows
that it must be the criterion of morality, since a part is included in the whole.
29
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 170–1.
30
Ibid., 146–7.
31
Further evidence that P and F are identical is found in Mill’s analysis of other ends of art in
this section – viz., money, power and fame. Note also that this method of comparing the relative
explanatory power of competing systems parallels exactly the philosophical methods of science,
philosophy and systematic theology in the assessment of rival paradigms.
786 DAN YIM
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And now to decide whether this is really so; whether mankind do desire
nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to them, or of which the absence
is a pain; we have evidently arrived at a question of fact and experience,
dependent, like all similar questions, upon evidence. It can only be determined
by practised self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by the observa-
tion of others. I believe that these sources of evidence, impartially consulted,
will declare that desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and
thinking of it as painful, are phenomena entirely inseparable, or rather two
parts of the same phenomenon; in strictness of language, two different modes
of naming the same psychological fact: that to think of an object as desirable
(unless for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are one
and the same thing; and that to desire anything, except in proportion as the
idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical impossibility.
32
As is hopefully now clear, proof
2
in the moral context is a specific
application of the general Science-Art dialectic for first principles to the
context of moral art. The moral art provisionally proposes as its end the
pursuit of a complex whole called happiness – viz., the experience of
complex qualities of pleasure. This is P. The best candidate for the
corresponding science for the development of theorems at the level of
sensations must be psychology.
33
It is the only Millian candidate that
specifically studies the causal conditions of phenomenal properties, of which
pleasure and pain are the most obvious. The psychological science examines
the proposed end – viz., the complex whole of happiness, as an object of
causal analysis. Psychology investigates the possible and actual mental
conditions required for such an end to be realized. Psychology determines
the most efficient causal pathways that must be traversed in order to realize
the end through the smallest number of intermediary steps. Given that the
proposed end is a complex web of pleasure, psychology recommends
theorems of associative and habituation strategies for the realization of the
general attainability of the complex happiness. The work of psychology is
complete. The moral art examines these recommendations and judges
whether or not the end really is a matter of enduring human desire, since
only such a feature of the end could motivate behaviour in accord with the
recommendations. If the proposed end is affirmed as a matter of enduring
desire, both currently and historically, then the moral art, after this
deliberative process, promotes the recommended actions to the level of
doctrinal secondary principles and confirms the provisional first principle,
promoting it to the level of first principle proper. Once these promotions
take place, their prescriptive force is created by convention, and a bona fide
moral theory based on the first principle emerges – utilitarian moral theory
based on P.
32
John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’, in On Liberty and Other Essays, 172.
33
Shia Moser, ‘A Comment on Mill’s Argument for Utilitarianism’, 313.
THE LOGIC AND MILL’S PROOF IN UTILITARIANISM 787
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The relation between science and art is a key to Mill’s non-standard proof
for the principle of utility in Utilitarianism. There is a general method of the
cooperative creation of first principles between Science and Art. This
method is designed to apply generally to all forms of art. Neither utilitarian
moral reasoning, as a specific moral art, nor morality itself, as a type of
human art-form, dwells in a peculiarly sacred place. No one art form has a
privileged status. Moral art is a convention, sharing rough axiological parity
with all other arts with respect to intrinsic features. The conventional
importance that is attached to the moral art, over and above other arts,
owes to two factors. First, the moral art has its place as one of the
departments of the Art of Life. Second, the readiness of the moral art to
evoke vivid phenomenal sensations of pleasure and pain naturally places it
among the most important investigations of sentient beings with the gift of
language.
Bethal University
788 DAN YIM
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