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Mill’s Division of Morality

  • Dale E. Miller
Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)

Abstract

My object in this chapter is to arrive at a clearer understanding of Mill’s ‘division of morality,’ by which I mean the division that he draws between justice and the rest of morality. While much that he has to say on this subject is not clear, two points are. One concerns his terminology. Mill uses perfect obligation to denote moral obligations that are obligations of justice and imperfect obligation to denote those that are not. The other clear point is that he takes all and only those moral obligations that are correlated with rights to be perfect obligations. Both of these points are made explicitly in the fifteenth paragraph of the fifth chapter of Utilitarianism, to which I will hereafter refer as 5:15. This lengthy paragraph seems to be the only passage in which Mill explicitly speaks to the division of morality, and it reads in part:

This, therefore, being the characteristic difference which marks off, not justice, but morality in general, from the remaining provinces of Expediency and Worthiness; the character is still to be sought which distinguishes justice from other branches of morality. Now it is known that ethical writers divide moral duties into two classes, denoted by the ill-chosen expressions, duties of perfect and of imperfect obligation; the latter being those in which, though the act is obligatory, the particular occasions of performing it are left to our choice, as in the case of charity or beneficence, which we are indeed bound to practise, but not towards any definite person, nor at any prescribed time.

Keywords

Moral Obligation Moral Rule Choice Criterion Imperfect Duty Rule Utilitarianism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Dale E. Miller 2012

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  • Dale E. Miller

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