Exceptionalism is the view that one group is better than other groups and, by virtue of its alleged superiority, is not subject to the same constraints. Here we identify national exceptionalism in the responses made by political leaders in the United States and the United Kingdom to the covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. First, we observe that responses appealed to national values and national character and were marked by a denial of the severity of the situation. Second, we suggest an analogy between national exceptionalism and unrealistic optimism, i.e., people’s tendency to make rosier predictions about their future than is warranted by the evidence due to illusions of superiority and control. Finally, we argue that, at the national level, exceptionalism gave rise to an assumption of invulnerability that made for slow responses to the pandemic, and at the individual level, it served as a justification of people’s failures to adopt safety behaviors.
This chapter takes up the charge that Mill commits the fallacy of composition in his proof of the principle of utility. This is the fallacy of assuming that what is true of the parts of a whole must therefore be true of the whole as well. It is a logical fallacy commonly committed in inferences from the attributes, properties, or characteristics of the parts of a whole to the attributes, properties, or characteristics of the corresponding whole. The following argument is an example: “Each word in this sentence is in the Oxford English Dictionary; therefore, this sentence is in the Oxford English Dictionary.” Mill allegedly commits the fallacy of composition in the third paragraph of the fourth chapter of Utilitarianism, where his reasoning can be paraphrased as follows: Each person’s happiness is desirable for (is a good to) the person whose happiness it is; therefore, the general happiness is desirable for (is a good to) the aggregate of all persons. Mill’s argument, paraphrased in this way and taken in isolation, appears on the face of it to commit the fallacy of composition. The primary aim of this chapter is to demonstrate that it does not.
This chapter absolves Mill of the charge that he equivocates on the word “desirable” in his proof, where he supposedly switches from a construal indicating ability or capacity to one establishing value, specifically in the process of inferring that which it is good to desire, or worthy of desire, from that which it is possible to desire, or able to be desired. The supposedly fallacious version of the argument can be summarized as follows: Whatever is desired is desirable (can be desired); happiness is desired; therefore, happiness is desirable (worthy of desire). This interpretation and the associated accusation are grounded in Mill’s analogic reasoning in comparing desires as evidence of desirability with seeing as evidence of visibility and hearing as evidence of audibility. Mill is thus taken to equivocate between the standard sense of “desirable” as a normative term analogous to “good” and an idiosyncratic sense of “desirable” as a descriptive term comparable to “visible” and “audible.”
This chapter turns to the various objections George Edward Moore raises against Mill in accusing him of committing the naturalistic fallacy in his proof of the principle of utility. Secondary literature on Moore’s conception of the naturalistic fallacy consists largely of two debates going to the heart of the matter in his Principia Ethica. The first is a more fundamental, though waning, debate on the precise definition of the naturalistic fallacy, as there is hardly any agreement on exactly what Moore means by that designation. The second is a more lively and ongoing debate concerning whether the naturalistic fallacy, either in Moore’s seminal conception or in contemporary reconceptions, is clearly a mistake or merely a fundamental philosophical disagreement between naturalists and nonnaturalists. Both debates are relevant to the aims of this chapter in defense of Mill’s proof. All in all, Moore accuses Mill of making two mistakes in committing the naturalistic fallacy. The first is the mistake of confusing the meaning of the word “good” with the meaning of some other word, or of conflating the concept of good with some other concept. The second is the mistake of attempting to prove that happiness is desirable as an end in itself, despite the fact that intrinsic goodness is not susceptible of proof or disproof. The first is clearly a mistake. The second is not so clear, but both Moore and Mill agree that it, too, is a mistake. The aim of the present chapter is to show that Mill makes neither mistake.
This chapter is a historical prologue to subsequent chapters. The aim is to reconstruct the philosophical background relevant to a proper interpretation of Mill’s proof of the principle of utility within the parameters of the ideology and vocabulary he inherited from predecessors. The aim determines the approach. The main methodological vehicle is an examination of the emergence and development of classical utilitarianism with particular attention to the conceptual and terminological dynamics in place immediately prior to Mill. As anything immediately prior to Mill is invariably associated with Bentham, whether in the domain of moral discourse or within the scope of social and political theory, the analysis here revolves around the formative forces contributing to Bentham’s position on utilitarianism.
This chapter provides an exegetical and critical survey of the reception of Mill’s proof of the principle of utility in the scholarly community. The point is to take stock of all the relevant objections, most notably the longstanding charges of fallacious reasoning, thus identifying exactly what is at stake without attempting to clear the proof of any errors, which is a task reserved for subsequent chapters. The general agreement among the critics consulted here is that Mill commits the logical fallacies of equivocation and composition in addition to exhibiting signs of a conceptual confusion later classified as the naturalistic fallacy, the supposed mistake of identifying the good with natural phenomena and explaining goodness in naturalistic terms. These charges emerge from a cluster of seminal reactions by highly influential scholars shaping the secondary literature on the subject, including, in chronological order, John Grote in An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy (1870), Henry Sidgwick in The Methods of Ethics (1874–1907), Francis Herbert Bradley in Ethical Studies (1876/1927), William Ritchie Sorley in The Ethics of Naturalism (1885/1904), John Dewey in Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics (1891), John Dewey and James Hayden Tufts in Ethics (1908/1932), John Stuart Mackenzie in A Manual of Ethics (1893–1929), and George Edward Moore in Principia Ethica (1903).
This chapter works out the various implications of Mill’s proof of the principle of utility on the assumption that the proof itself is successful. If the proof is indeed successful, then Mill’s accomplishment is to have proven the principle that happiness is the only thing that is desirable as an end in itself. The question, then, is what to do with this principle. The first task is to specify the precise role of the principle in Mill’s ethical theory. The second task is to illustrate the application of the principle as a guide to morality. These tasks are taken up in separate sections. The first section traces the implications of Mill’s proof of the principle of utility for a theory of obligation which can be constructed on the theory of value established by the proof. It shows how the conclusion that happiness is the only thing that is desirable as an end in itself supports Mill’s further contention that the promotion of happiness is the test of right and wrong, and that we ought to act so as to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The second section sketches directions for further research toward a comprehensive understanding of Mill’s principle of utility. It aims to bring out the relevant details of its application as the first principle of a normative ethical theory. The attempt is organized around three sets of distinctions commonly drawn to analyze any utilitarian theory: the difference between act and rule utilitarianism; the differences between the actual, intended, and foreseeable consequences of actions; the difference between total and average happiness.
Mill’s Principle of Utility: Origins, Proof, and Implications is a scholarly monograph on John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism with a particular emphasis on his proof of the principle of utility. Originally published as Mill’s Principle of Utility: A Defense of John Stuart Mill’s Notorious Proof (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1994), the present volume is a revised and enlarged edition with additional material, tighter arguments, crisper discussions, and updated references. The initiative is still principally an analysis, interpretation, and defense of the controversial proof, which has yet to attract a scholarly consensus on how it works and whether it succeeds. Well over a century and a half after Mill’s contribution, the subject matter continues to figure prominently in classroom discussions, where the principle and its proof are presented and debated in connection with the critical baggage of logical problems and conceptual confusions wrongly attributed to Mill from the beginning. The overarching aim of the book, now supplemented by a comprehensive historical background and salient philosophical implications, remains the vindication of Mill’s reasoning in pursuit of what he promises as a proof of the principle of utility.
This chapter is dedicated to establishing the essence and function of Mill’s principle of utility, in other words, to determining what it is and specifying what it is for. The reason that such a conceivably simple task serves a genuine need and merits a separate chapter is partly that Mill himself never actually defines the principle of utility and partly that his various references and discussions concerning the principle point to decidedly different definitions. The purpose of this chapter is to examine his apparently definitive remarks in order to discover and isolate his considered opinion on the matter and to arrive at a conclusive definition of the principle. Determining the correct formulation at the outset is of crucial importance, given that the principle of utility constitutes the unit of analysis in the entirety of the extended analysis in subsequent chapters. The position adopted and defended here, upon careful consideration of the facts, together with a comparison of the alternatives, is that Mill’s principle of utility is the principle that happiness (pleasure and absence of pain) is the only thing that is desirable as an end in itself.