Date

4-28-2020

Description

One of J.S. Mill's primary aims in On Liberty is to establish that coercive power is illegitimate when used for paternalistic reasons. According to Mill, the individual's independence is "of right, absolute" when the conduct of the individual is purely self- regarding (On Liberty, 8). There is, however, a tension between Mill’s blanket rejection of paternalism and his commitment to utilitarianism: it is not clear that happiness would be maximized by refraining from paternalistic interference in all possible cases. Assuming that classical utilitarianism is the relevant evaluative standard, the utility of such interference involves some degree of contingency. That is, whether paternalistic interference would promote maximal happiness in any given case depends, to some extent, on the particulars of the case in question. Why, then, is Mill's anti-paternalism so uncompromising? In this paper, I defend an interpretation of Mill's conception of happiness that renders his rejection of paternalistic interference more consistent. Specifically, I argue that the perfectionist elements in Utilitarianism and On Liberty substantially reduce the tension between the anti-paternalist principle and the contingency of utilitarian assessments of paternalistic interference.

Included in

Philosophy Commons

Share

COinS
 
Apr 28th, 12:00 AM

John Stuart Mill on Happiness and Paternalism

One of J.S. Mill's primary aims in On Liberty is to establish that coercive power is illegitimate when used for paternalistic reasons. According to Mill, the individual's independence is "of right, absolute" when the conduct of the individual is purely self- regarding (On Liberty, 8). There is, however, a tension between Mill’s blanket rejection of paternalism and his commitment to utilitarianism: it is not clear that happiness would be maximized by refraining from paternalistic interference in all possible cases. Assuming that classical utilitarianism is the relevant evaluative standard, the utility of such interference involves some degree of contingency. That is, whether paternalistic interference would promote maximal happiness in any given case depends, to some extent, on the particulars of the case in question. Why, then, is Mill's anti-paternalism so uncompromising? In this paper, I defend an interpretation of Mill's conception of happiness that renders his rejection of paternalistic interference more consistent. Specifically, I argue that the perfectionist elements in Utilitarianism and On Liberty substantially reduce the tension between the anti-paternalist principle and the contingency of utilitarian assessments of paternalistic interference.