A Humean Constructivist Reading of J. S. Mill's Utilitarian Theory

Utilitas 28 (2):189-214 (2016)
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There is a common view that the utilitarian theory of John Stuart Mill is morally realist and involves a strong kind of practical obligation. This article argues for two negative theses and a positive thesis. The negative theses are that Mill is not a moral realist and that he does not believe in certain kinds of obligations, those involving external reasons and those I callrobustobligations, obligations with a particular, strong kind of practical authority. The positive thesis is that Mill's metaethical position can be interpreted as a Humean constructivist view, a metaethical view that is constructivist about value and entails the existence of practical reasons, but not external reasons or robust obligations. I argue that a Humean constructivist reading of Mill's theory is reasonable, and strengthens Mill's argument from desire for the value of happiness, an important but notoriously weak aspect of his theory.

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Nicholas Drake
Australian National University


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