A Critical Analysis of Js Mills Attempt to Ground Justice in Utility

Topics: Utilitarianism, Ethics, Justice Pages: 5 (1375 words) Published: April 30, 2006
Mill sets out to explain the concept of justice in terms of Utility. Utility is a measure of the rightness of a particular action in terms of its tendency to produce happiness. Utilitarianism is, thus, a moral theory which rates the happiness of each individual as equally important and the aggregate happiness of all individuals involved as the basis of morality.

Outline of Mill's Argument

Initially, Mill establishes that it is often argued what is useful and leads to the greatest happiness may also lead to injustice. In this way it is often thought that the idea of utility can conflict with ideas of justice. Justice is taken as a more powerful binding force than usefulness because, as Mill concludes, it carries with it the feeling that punishment should occur if an injustice is done. Expediency, on the other hand, carries no such sanction.

The feeling that injustice warrants punishment is common to all forms of morality. Therefore, Mill distinguishes these other forms of morality from justice through the idea of perfect duty. Justice involves people's rights, whereas the rest of morality involves no rights. Therefore, if someone does not have a right to something then violation cannot be unjust, though it can be immoral.

Individuals hold rights as very important and something society should defend, because they tie in with our need for security. It is the strength of this need for security that makes us rate justice above utility. As noted by Mill, "the feelings concerned are so powerful…that right and should grow into must" . Justice is itself ultimately grounded in utility. Happiness and utility rely on the rights of each individual being protected, thus, justice protects each individual's happiness.

Justice and the ‘Ambiguous Internal Oracle'

In endeavouring to ground justice in utility Mill puts forward two essential arguments. Firstly, he sets out that all moral components to the idea of justice depend upon utility. Secondly, Mill sets out that if justice were indeed independent of utility and able to be ascertained "by simple introspection of itself" then this "internal oracle" would not be "so ambiguous" . Essentially, Mill contends that if the "dictates of justice" are so "immutable, ineffaceable and unmistakable" then "on questions of justice there could be no controversy" . Mill then goes on to exemplify the extreme "difference of opinion" on what is just in relation to theories of punishment, taxation methods and distribution of income.

Given that justice is so "ambiguous" when left to "simple introspection" and all opinions, from each individuals "internal oracle" , are "extremely plausible…so long as the question is argued as on of justice simply" even when opinions oppose each other, Mill concludes that "from these confessions there is no other mode of extrication than the utilitarian" . Mill contends that utility offers the best resolution for these conflicts in rights claims.

Here Mill establishes justice as an alternative "independent standard" to utility to show that utility is not opposed to justice and conflicting moral reasoning but, in fact, utility provides a means of procedure for resolving such conflicts. In fact, Mill sets out that Utilitarianism is the only rational procedure where such moral conflicts arise.

Through example Mill sets out varying situations in which justice is at pains to give accurate guidance and is capable of supporting all sides, where each side "builds upon rules of justice confessedly true" . However, there may be situations where justice, as an "internal oracle" , is unambiguous or the utilitarian approach will lead to a wholly unjust and unpalatable resolution for all "reasoners" involved.

It is noted that "many devices have been invented to turn rather than to overcome" these conflicts, such as "the freedom of will" and "the fiction of a contract" . Here Mill is completely discounting such methods for decision making where rules...
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