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John Stuart Mill: 

John Stuart Mill Three Conceptions of Nature Mill vs. Aquinas on Teleology Mill vs. Rousseau on the Noble Savage Mill’s Ethical Dualism

Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham: 

Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham 1. Universal hedonism: everyone always seeks to maximize own pleasure, minimize own pain. 2. The right public policy: greatest happiness for greatest number. Each person counts for one, and only one. 3. Natural rights,natural law = 'nonsense on stilts'

Three conceptions of "nature": 

Three conceptions of 'nature' Mill offers two definitions: 1. Nature is the totality of what does or can happen. Only impossible things are 'contrary to nature'. 2. Nature includes everything except what is the result of intentional human action. Natural vs. artificial. Everything we do is 'contrary to nature'.

A missing alternative?: 

A missing alternative? Where does this leave the teleological conception of nature in Aristotle, Aquinas, Butler? Human nature is defined by our final cause (eudaemonia). Whatever prevents us from achieving our final cause is 'contrary to (human) nature'.


Mill considers this third conception when he considers the possibility that Nature = whatever fulfills God's intentions. Notice the difference between Aquinas and Mill's imagined theologian on this point: bottom-up vs. top-down.

Aquinas on Teleology: 

Aquinas on Teleology Aquinas proceeds in a bottom-up fashion: 1. Science tells us that certain things have functions andamp; final causes. 2. Natural theology tells us that God created these organs and organisms. 3. Hence, we can infer that it is (in some sense) God's intention that things should fulfill their natural functions and achieve their final ends.


Aquinas’ first step is excluded by the modern, Baconian conception of science (as concerned exclusively with material and efficient causes).

Mill’s Natural Theologian: 

Mill’s Natural Theologian Mill's imagined theologian proceeds in a top-down fashion: 1. Natural theology tells us that there is a benevolent Creator and governor of the cosmos. 2. By carefully examining the universe, we are able to infer what God intentions are for specific parts.


3. We can then call these Divinely intended uses the 'natural functions' or 'purposes' of things. Mill throws doubt on step 2. Mill doesn't even seem to be aware of the possibility of the bottom-up approach. He assumes that Bacon's conception of science is the correct one.

Mill on the Problem of Evil: 

Mill on the Problem of Evil Mill argues that God must be either evil or less than omnipotent (all-powerful). 1. If God were omnipotent, then all of His intentions would be fulfilled. 2. If God were good, He would intend that every creature enjoy perfect happiness. 3. But, every creature does not enjoy perfect happiness.


Therefore, God is either not good or not omnipotent. However, premise 2 is problematic: is it obvious that a good God must intend universal happiness (unless you’re a utilitarian)?

A better argument: 

A better argument 1. Assume that Nature is defined as what fulfills God's intentions. 2. If all of God's intentions are fulfilled, then nothing every happens that is contrary to nature. 3. If not all of God's intentions are fulfilled, then His intentions are always inscrutable.


Therefore, either nothing happens that is contrary to nature, or whether or not something is contrary to nature is always inscrutable. Either way, the concept 'contrary to nature' is useless. Applies only to the 'top-down' conception of teleology.

Mill vs. Rousseau: 

Mill vs. Rousseau Rousseau's elevation of nature (in sense 2) and rejection of convention and artificiality is one of Mill's principal targets. The 'Noble Savage' idea. Mill argues that uncivilized peoples are typically 'pugnacious, dirty, irascible, cowardly and mendacious (untruthful)'.

Uncivilized human nature in need of reform: 

Uncivilized human nature in need of reform 1. It includes many drives and impulses that are wholly bad -- drives toward cruelty and destruction. 2. It is part of a system of nature that is amoral, in which the vast majority of animals live by tormenting and devouring other animals.


Mill reflects typical British sympathy for the suffering of animals. Also motivated Darwin to find an impersonal explanation for this 'natural evil'.

The Essence of Moral Value: 

The Essence of Moral Value Eric Voegelin: modern world returns to a Gnostic philosophy: Actual, physical universe is the product of a bad god, or of the recalcitrance of matter (inherently evil). Morality is defined by the character and intentions of a separate good god, who had nothing to do with creating this world.

Mill’s Dualism: 

Mill’s Dualism There is a finite, wholly beneficent God. Nature (including human nature) does not yet reflect the values and intentions of God. He needs our help to reform the world.

Ethical dualism: 

Ethical dualism Unbridgeable gap between what is and what ought to be (David Hume), or between facts and values. 'You cannot derive values from facts, or oughts from isses.' Raises the problem: why be moral? What is the basis of the authority of the moral 'ought'?

Sympathy as Basis of Morality: 

Sympathy as Basis of Morality Mill fastens on a particular motive or feeling: compassion, sympathy, good-will. Morality is based on the perfection and universalization of that feeling: impartial sympathy for all human beings.

Critique of Sympathetic Morality: 

Critique of Sympathetic Morality Why should this feeling be given priority over others? What makes the moral point of view inescapable and overriding? Nietzsche: Victorian moralism is merely a vestige of extinct faith.


Darwin Did Darwin Bury Aristotle or Revive him? Is the Difference between Animals and Humans one of degree or of kind? Is Human Nature fixed or in a constant state of flux?

Did Darwin Bury Aristotle or Revive him?: 

Did Darwin Bury Aristotle or Revive him? Key issue: place of teleology (final causes) in biology. Philosophers and biologists have argued both ways, right up to present.

Darwin Buried Aristotle: 

Darwin Buried Aristotle Assume: biological systems have built-in purposes only if they have been specifically designed by God to serve those purposes. Darwinism provides a basis for denying the existence of any built-in purposes in the biological world, since it replaces specific Divine designs with the actions of an impersonal, purely physical process (natural selection).

Dawkins: design vs. designoids: 

Dawkins: design vs. designoids Organisms only appear to have been designed; they are really 'designoids'. Contrast: Mt. Rushmored: design. Mountain in NM that resembles JFK: designoid.

Darwin Resuscitated Aristotle: 

Darwin Resuscitated Aristotle Correspondence between Asa Gray (leading American zoologist) and Darwin (published in Nature). Gray: 'We recognize the great service rendered by Darwin to natural science by restoring teleology to it, so that instead of having morphology against teleology, we shall have henceforth morphology married to teleology.' Nature, June 4, 1874.

Darwin’s Reply: 

Darwin’s Reply 'What you say about teleology pleases me especially, and I do not think anyone else ever noticed the point. I have always said that you were the man to hit the nail on the head.' (quoted in Autobiography, p. 308)

Francis Darwin (Charles’s son): 

Francis Darwin (Charles’s son) 'One of the great services rendered by my father to the study of Natural History is the revival of Teleology. The evolutionist studies the purpose or meaning of organs with the zeal of the older Teleologist, but with far wider and more coherent purpose.' Echoed by Thomas Huxley. (Auto., p. 316)

Darwinian Final Causation: 

Darwinian Final Causation Assume that final causation/natural purpose does not necessarily involve being the product of an intentional design. Case in point: Aristotle believed that organs had purposes, even though he did not believe that they had been designed. We can use natural selection to distinguish function/use, essence/accident.

What did natural selection select this organ for?: 

What did natural selection select this organ for? The heart does all of the following: pumps blood makes thump-a-thump-a noise fills space in the chest when freeze-dried, makes a good paperweight Why did natural selection favor creatures with a heart? Because hearts pump blood, and not for any reason related to the other facts.

Teleology & Darwinism: 

Teleology andamp; Darwinism Some recent philosophers have gone so far as to say that only natural selection can produce things with final causes, purposes. Seems to go too far: surely purposes can result from either natural selection or intelligent design. As philosophers, we don't have to settle the Darwinism/intelligent design issue, since both agree that final causation applies to biological systems.

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