Moral Synonymy: John Stuart Mill and the Ethics of Style
‘A common language in which values may be expressed’: this is a phrase John Stuart Mill might well have used to describe utility — the common denominator of different ethical values in utilitarian moral reckoning. In fact, this is Mill’s phrase describing money as a circulating medium.1 In utilitarianism, utility is the ubiquitous form of moral currency; like money in the capitalist economy, it functions as the ‘universal equivalent’ in the moral economy.2 It is therefore unsurprising that economic idioms abound in discussions of utilitarianism, with their talk of trade-offs, calculation, and costs. But it is not the parallel with economic exchange that I want to focus on in this essay. Mill’s reference to ‘a common language’ points succinctly to a different connection which will be the centre of attention, and that is between forms of ethical and linguistic equivalence.
KeywordsMoral Agency Linguistic Form Personal Style Moral Luck Critical Ethic
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