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Chapter 4 - Moral Expression as Legislation

Mill and Sidgwick

from Part I - The Emergence of the Rule-Consequentialist Paradox

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2021

Alex Tuckness
Affiliation:
Iowa State University
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Summary

John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick grappled with the perspectival problem arising from Bentham’s full rejection of the theological justification for the legislative point of view. Mill’s intriguing suggestion that “wrong” refers to that which should be punished by law, public opinion, or private conscience combined with his assumption that all three are open to revision on utilitarian principles leads to the interesting conclusion that our moral statements about right and wrong are tacit legislative proposals. When deciding whether to voice our moral opinions we must think like legislators enacting a rule. This was in tension with the idea that our public expressions of moral judgment should be spontaneous reactions to the poor choices of others. Sidgwick grasped the implications of this issue more clearly and more self-consciously than did Mill, since it meant that there was a potentially deep disjunction between what is right according to utilitarianism and what utilitarianism tells us to publicly state as right. Sidgwick’s defense of an esoteric morality is the final outcome of the attempt to secularize morality as legislation.

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Morality as Legislation
Rules and Consequences
, pp. 101 - 125
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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