The Neoclassical Synthesis of Rights and Utility 
The Neoclassical Synthesis of Rights and Utility
by Yale / Ian Shapiro
Video Lecture 7 of 25
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Date Added: June 18, 2011

Lecture Description

John Stuart Mill's synthesis rights and utility follows naturally in the vein of neoclassical utilitarianism, and it attempts to compensate for many of the shortcomings of Bentham's classical utilitarianism. In the end, it turns out to be a doctrine that does not look very similar to Bentham's at all. An important component of Mill's doctrine is his harm principle, which states that the only purpose for which one can interfere with the liberty of action of another individual is self-protection. He also emphasizes free speech because he believes that through the process of argument, one can arrive at truth, which amounts to utility for society. A significant departure from the early Enlightenment, Mill believes in fallibility, and his philosophy of science closely resembles the modern conception. However, there seems to be inconsistency in his application of his libertarian theory where he seems to ignore some types of harm to others. Professor Shapiro reconciles for this by advocating a different, two-step reading of Mill.

Reading assignment:
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 3-4

Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 1-3 [optional]

Course Index

Course Description

This course explores main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.

Course Structure:
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.

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