Peirce Seminar Series: Jeffrey Downard, “Pain and Pleasure: Mill’s Utilitarianism rebutted with Peirce’s Phenomenology”

Date(s) - 10/25/2012
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm

ES - Education/Social Work Building

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The Peirce Seminar Series Presents

Jeffrey Downard
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Northern Arizona University

Pain and Pleasure: Mill’s Utilitarianism rebutted with Peirce’s Phenomenology

In his classic work on moral theory, John Stuart Mill argues that empirical observations are the only kind of proof that can be given to show that something is good. Drawing on evidence about what each of us desires, he argues that pleasure and the absence of pain are the only things that are good for their own sake. All other things, including virtue, the will and justice, are good solely insofar as they are a means to happiness or a part of it. In this paper, I will draw on Peirce’s phenomenology in order to develop some objections to Mill’s arguments. In particular, I will use Peirce’s account of the formal categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness in order to show that Mill cannot give an adequate explanation of what is necessary to make a comparison of the value of two things that are held to be good—such as a comparison of the value of intellectual and physical pleasures.