Dialogue

Articles

John Stuart Mill's Concept of Utility

Wendy Donnera1

a1 University of Cincinnati, University of Florida

I offer here an interpretation and defense of John Stuart Mill's qualitative hedonism. One of the results of Mill's well-known mental crisis was a concept of utility substantially different from the orthodox Benthamite quantitative hedonism which Mill came to regard as being fraught with difficulties. He saw Bentham's concept as being excessively narrow, and he sought to overcome its limitations by enlarging his own concept of utility. He did this by including the quality of pleasures along with the quantity in the estimation of their worth. At the same time, Mill was highly critical of the intuitionist ethical theories of his day, and propounded utilitarianism as the rational, objective, and scientific alternative. So if Mill is to succeed in his enterprise of countering intuitionism while avoiding the pitfalls of Benthamite utilitarianism, he must retain the objectivity of Benthamism while repudiating its narrowness. Mill's critics have argued that when he opened up his concept of utility to include quality, he modified his theory so radically that he can no longer be called a hedonistic utilitarian, and that he relinquished the consis- tency and objectivity of Benthamite utilitarianism along with its weak- nesses. I argue here that Mill abandons neither hedonism nor utilitarianism, and that the objectivity and consistency of his theory are not undermined.