By Leonard Kahn (eds.)
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Secondary principles are false targets for the successful pursuit of one’s primary objective, as when one shouldn’t think too hard about how to make a free throw if one wants to increase one’s chances of making the shot or when one aims to the left of the green so as to compensate for a slice in one’s golf swing. However, the immediate context of discussion in Chapter II of Utilitarianism suggests that Mill is there focusing on a different relationship. Secondary principles are generally but imperfectly reliable guides to doing what will maximize happiness.
Because justice is a species of duty, it inherits the indirect character of sanction utilitarianism. In ‘Mill’s Theory of Morality’ and other essays, David Lyons (1994, Chapters 2 and 3) has drawn attention to this indirect aspect of Mill’s utilitarianism. Lyons does not have a name for this form of indirect utilitarianism. Because it makes the rightness and wrongness of conduct depend upon the utility of sanctioning that conduct in some way, we might call it sanction utilitarianism. Because sanction utilitarianism is a species of indirect utilitarianism, it is inconsistent with act utilitarianism.
This introduces a second-order sanction, whose rightness we can now ask about. We seem to be off on an infinite regress of sanctions. This is already cause for concern, inasmuch as this infinite regress looks vicious, because there appears to be no determinate fact to ground an answer to the original question about whether it is right to apply the first-order sanction. But matters are worse for sanction utilitarianism, inasmuch as it implies a direct utilitarian answer to the question of whether it is right to apply sanctions that is inconsistent with the general criterion.
Mill on Justice by Leonard Kahn (eds.)