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MILL ON JUSTICE: CHAPTER 5 of UTILITARIANISM Lecture Notes Dick Arneson Philosophy 13 Fall, 2008 In "Classical Utilitarianism" John Rawls asserts that utilitarianism is incompatible with justice and objectionable for that reason. Utilitarianism according to Rawls can imply that we should in certain situations treat people unfairly, violate their moral rights. Utilitarianism "does not take seriously the distinction between persons," he writes. By this he means that utilitarianism extends what is acceptable in choices that one person makes for her own life to situations of conflict of interest among distinct persons. It is prudent, and permissible, for me to accept the modest pain of going to the dentist now to avoid the bigger pain of a toothache later, but utilitarianism holds that if I can gain for Smith relief of a pain equivalent to toothache by imposing on Jones a smaller pain equivalent to going to the dentist and no other option I can choose produces more utility than I should impose on Jones. In chapter 5 of Utilitarianism J. S. Mill takes up the supposed conflict between utilitarianism and justice. His argument is difficult, complex, and subtle. In the end the question arises whether he meets the objection or evades it. Mill takes the problem to be that the sentiment of justice feels to most of us more compelling and morally more authoritative than the sentiment of benevolence associated to utilitarianism. Mill thinks that 'people are in general willing enough to allow that objectively the dictates of justice coincide with a part of the field of general expediency." Still, the "subjective mental feeling of justice' is usually more imperative in its demands that the feeling "which commonly attaches to simple expediency" (p. 42). We begin by asking what is the common quality that unites all modes of conduct and policy we deem just. It is thought normally to be unjust to (a) violate someone's legal rights, at least those that ought to be his rights, (b) not to treat people as they deserve, (c) to break faith with anyone, (d) to be partial in those situations where impartiality is required, and (d) to treat people unequally, though people disagree wildly as to what sort of equality might be morally required. Mill cannot find a common thread here, so breaks off this discussion and starts another. Mill looks at the history of usage of the word and finds the idea of justice tied to the idea of conformity to law, at least law as it ought to be. We call conduct unjust that we do not think should be enforced by law, but what is thought unjust is always thought to be fit for punishment, either by law, or public opinion, or by pangs of conscience. But this is not the specific idea of injustice but the more general idea of a moral wrong. An act that is morally wrong is one that ought to be punished somehow (and an act is morally right, rather than
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