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Did John Stuart Mill Reconcile Commitment to Liberty with Admittance of a Single Value Utility?

By I. Tarrant


Numerous interpretations of John Stuart Mill´s utilitarianism have been proposed (in response to the above question) to date. The interpretation presented in this paper is distinctive in that it draws heavily upon multiple utility frameworks, a recent development in microeconomic theory. It is argued that such an analytical framework would enable Mill to advocate an absolute right to liberty, without betraying utilitarianism. This conclusion is at variance with Amartya Sen´s key Paretian liberal paradox, which establishes conflict between some minimal commitment to individual liberty and a social welfare function based upon Paretian value judgements. Generally, one would expect the social objective of utility maximisation to be consistent with the objective of maximisation of a Paretian social welfare function. However, the apparent contradiction is explained here by the fact that the approach to social welfare implied by Mill´s utilitarianism differs fundamentally from the conventional Paretian social welfare function. The analysis is also used to suggest a novel route out of the Sen paradox.\u

Publisher: Department of Economics, University of Sheffield
Year: 2004
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