joefromchigago, one final comment before we move on from your inability to see Mills' subtle ought:
I'll leave it to those who have some familiarity with Mill (I have no idea who this "Mills" fellow is) to judge whether I have been able to discern his subtleties.
I accept 'one ought to care about those other than oneself' as a working assumption which, although unprovable, is, I think, a reasonable assumption...
I can't understand why you'd assume that.
...(I also hold, as working assumptions, other unprovable beliefs, such as belief in the existence of an external reality, and belief that entities other than myself are conscious), and it is an assumption demanded by my conscious.
I happen to share your other working assumptions, but those are epistemological, not ethical assumptions. As for contending that your assumption is demanded by your conscious, my only reply is: your conscious what
In case you think my conscience is too weak a foundation for a moral system, let me turn to Mills to argue my corner:
Of course your conscience is too weak a foundation for a moral system. If you say that your conscience demands that you ought to care about others, and if by "conscience" you mean your moral sense (i.e. your sense of what is right and what is wrong), then what you're saying, in effect, is that you ought to do what you think you ought to do. That's circular reasoning, and that can't be the basis for anything. And to the extent that Mill reached the same conclusion, he made the same error.
Now, moving on, getting back on right sides: If you are not a utilitarian, where do you find fault with Mills' reasoning? Do you disagree that happiness is desirable? Or do you agree that it is desirable, but hold that there are other things that are equally, or more, desirable?
No doubt happiness is desirable. One of the major problems, as I have attempted to explain earlier, is how can a utlitarian make the leap from saying that an individual's happiness is desirable for that individual to saying that an individual ought to desire happiness for others. That is not, I hasten to add, necessarily an "is-ought" problem. Rather, it is a problem of connecting the two logically.
Allow me to illustrate the problem in this fashion: let's say that a person (we'll call her Debbie) acts solely for the benefit of others' happiness, such that her actions always tend to increase the pleasure of society in general, even though her actions bring no happiness at all to her. Is Debbie acting morally?
I think, for the utilitarian, the answer must be "yes."* But it is one of the foundational tenets of utilitarianism that happiness is desirable for the individual. In this case, then, Debbie is acting morally but she is also acting irrationally
: she is increasing society's pleasure but she is not striving to increase her own. If that is the case, though, we are faced with a rather curious dilemma: how can a system of morality oblige someone to act in an irrational manner, and how would that
*If the answer is "no," then that would call into question the entire "greatest happiness" principle.