Gianfranco Pellegrino

Utilitarianism and the dissolving of paternalism

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Paternalism; anti-paternalism; utilitarianism; J.S. Mill; J.F. Stephen; justification.

In On Liberty (1859), J.S. Mill (1806-1873) provided a well-known utilitarian argument against paternalistic interferences. In Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (1873), J.F. Stephen (1829-1894) challenged Mill’s argument, and put forward a utilitarian argument for paternalism. In this article, the two arguments are considered. It turns out that Mill’s argument posits that paternalistic interferences may be prima facie justified, but they are wrong overall, as they fail to maximize happiness. By contrast, Stephen’s view reduces paternalistic interferences to mere applications of the utilitarian rule, thereby rejecting the view that paternalism is an independently justified claim. As a consequence, utilitarian anti-paternalism assumes that paternalism is prima facie justified, whereas utilitarian paternalism assumes that paternalism dissolves into utilitarianism. This makes the relations between utilitarianism and paternalism/antipaternalism unexpectedly contradictory

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