Utilitarianism II


1. The Almanac.  An objection to Mill is that we don’t know the future well enough to figure out what is “expedient”, i.e., what in the long run maximizes utility.  Moreover, we don’t always have the time to figure it out.  Mill responds in chapter 2 with his “nautical almanac” story.  For navigation, we need to know positions of celestial objects by date.  True, one could calculate them oneself using Newton’s laws, but that would take a long time.  A nautical almanac contains pre-calculated positions of stars and planets.  That one uses an almanac does not put into question the basic nature of Newton’s laws.  Likewise, we have an ethical almanac: the consensus of humankind.  People over the centuries have worked out what maximizes utility, and have devised ethical rules that are useful “rules of thumb”, such as “Thou shalt not give false witness”.

2. Justice.  People tend to believe that over and beyond expediency, there is justice.  The rules of justice outweigh those of expediency.  Mill argues that justice is actually grounded in utility-maximization.  Here’s why.

3. The argument from applications.

4. The abhorrent conclusions objection to utilitarianism.