Mill, Rule Utilitarianism, and the Incoherence Objection

John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life, ed. Ben Eggleston, Dale E. Miller, and David Weinstein (New York: Oxford UP, 2011), pp. 94–116

This chapter argues that the “incoherence” or “rule-worship” objection to rule utilitarianism is best understood as asserting that rule utilitarians are committed to inconsistent claims about practical reasons: they are committed to an “act-utilitarian” view of practical reason by their arguments for their theory, while the theory itself commits them to a contradictory view—at least if an action's being wrong is a reason not to do it. It also offers suggestions about how to argue for a form of rule utilitarianism, albeit an idiosyncratic one, without opening oneself to the incoherence objection. Mill enters into the discussion in two ways. First, his Art of Life is used to illustrate how rule utilitarianism can fall victim to the incoherence objection, for his version does. Second, Mill provides the premises of the approach to defending rule utilitarianism that the chapter proposes, although it is an approach that he would reject.

Published version (available via Oxford Scholarship Online)