Was Mill a non-cognitivist?

Macleod, Christopher (2013) Was Mill a non-cognitivist? The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 51 (2). pp. 206-223. ISSN 0038-4283

[thumbnail of wasmillanoncognitivist]
PDF (wasmillanoncognitivist)
wasmillanoncognitivist.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.

Download (85kB)


In this paper, I examine the presumption that Mill endorses a form of metaethical non-cognitivism. I argue that the evidence traditionally cited for this interpretation is not convincing, and suggest that we should instead remain open to a cognitivist reading. I begin, in Section I, by laying out the ‘received view’ of Mill on the status of practical norms, as given by Alan Ryan in the 1970s. There is, I claim in Sections II and III, no firm textual evidence for this reading of Mill: his remarks on ‘art’ and ‘science’ do not show the metaethical commitments they have been taken to. Neither is there firm textual evidence for a cognitivist reading. However, I suggest in Section IV, a non-cognitivist interpretation suffers from the fault of anachronism, and is difficult to reconcile with a clear commitment in Utilitarianism IV.3 to the possibility of evidence being given for the desirability of pleasure. A cognitivist reading would not suffer from these faults, and on that basis, I conclude that we should think further about what a cognitivist reading of Mill might amount to.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
The Southern Journal of Philosophy
Additional Information:
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Macleod, C. (2013), Was Mill a Noncognitivist?. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 51: 206–223. doi: 10.1111/sjp.12011 which has been published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sjp.12011/abstract This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Uncontrolled Keywords:
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
25 Oct 2012 12:25
Last Modified:
22 Sep 2023 00:17