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Conventional Morality - Book Report/Review Example

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Conventional Morality

It would be a mistake to suggest that Mill held to the strict utilitarian doctrine of the necessity to ‘maximise utility’, and that any other action is prima facie wrong. It is at this point that Mill went beyond his fellow utilitarians and attempted to reconcile the concept of utility within society. Mill has been criticised on this point for his lack of clarity, but it seems that this stems from the nature of his work, that rather than laying down a strict doctrine he was active, throughout his writings, attempting to work out and accommodate his principles. Mill understood the promotion of happiness as “The test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality.” But what Mill has been criticised for, even by Nietzsche himself, is his failure to define what morality constitutes. He explores in depth the concept of morality, especially in regards to the idea of duty, but seems to suggest that morality itself is a given. J.O. Urmson suggests that Mill’s quest is “concerning the foundation of morality” and not in seeking a definition for the term itself. He presents morality as the realm of right and wrong, of duty and obligation, but his insistence on the ultimate aim, on the ends rather than the specific means of achieving them presents a conflict in his theories. On what level can right or wrong be judged? It is here that Mill introduces his theory on the harm principal but this itself does little to accommodate his theories. His moral theory rests on the principle of the common good, that it only applies once this common good is threatened. That individually, a person has recourse to their conscience, but once society becomes involved in a certain action, then the repercussions come under the judgement of that society, this, for Mill, is the standard of morality. But still the criticism remains in the lack of clarification, especially around the words duty, obligation and wrongness. For Mill there seems to be no dependence between morality and utility. David Lyons suggests that Mill could consistently acknowledge someone who rejected his theory of utilitarianism but accepted his theory of morality, and applied it ...Show more


The author of this review "Conventional Morality" casts light on different approaches to the study of conventional morality. Admittedly, traditionally approached there appears little apparent compatibility in Mill’s utilitarianism and Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy…
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