7. The Neoclassical Synthesis of Rights and Utility

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Moral Foundations of Politics (PLSC 118)

John Stuart Mill's synthesis rights and utility follows naturally in the vein of neoclassical utilitarianism, and it attempts to compensate for many of the shortcomings of Bentham's classical utilitarianism. In the end, it turns out to be a doctrine that does not look very similar to Bentham's at all. An important component of Mill's doctrine is his harm principle, which states that the only purpose for which one can interfere with the liberty of action of another individual is self-protection. He also emphasizes free speech because he believes that through the process of argument, one can arrive at truth, which amounts to utility for society. A significant departure from the early Enlightenment, Mill believes in fallibility, and his philosophy of science closely resembles the modern conception. However, there seems to be inconsistency in his application of his libertarian theory where he seems to ignore some types of harm to others. Professor Shapiro reconciles for this by advocating a different, two-step reading of Mill.

00:00 - Chapter 1. Synthesizing Rights and Utility: John Stuart Mill (1806 -- 1873)
24:37 - Chapter 2. Four Reasons Why Freedom of Speech Is Important
30:08 - Chapter 3. Problems with Defining Harm and Mill's Harm Principle

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://open.yale.edu/courses

This course was recorded in Spring 2010.