John Stuart Mill

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How do actions in Merchants of Doubt violate John Stuart Mill’s concept of truth as a moral duty?

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To answer this question about Merchants of Doubt and its relationship to the thought of John Stuart Mill, we first need to discuss Mill’s ideas on morality, truth, and deception. Let’s look at these.

According to Mill, morality follows the Greatest Happiness Principle. Moral choices, he claims, should be made using the standard of what brings the most happiness to the most people. Happiness, as Mill defines it, is pleasure. The opposite of happiness is pain, according to this model. Truth, Mill says, is usually preferable to lies because truth usually brings more happiness and lies more pain. This is not always so though, Mill adds. Sometimes lies actually bring more happiness or pleasure, and in that case, a lie is morally acceptable or even obligatory in Mill’s mortal system.

Now let’s think about Merchants of Doubt. This book argues that a group of scientists deliberately obscured the truth about controversial issues ranging from tobacco use to climate change. In terms of Mill’s arguments, we can note that the actions of the scientists, as presented in the book, brought a great deal of pain to people by spreading confusion and doubt and by interfering with actions that could have worked for the good of people. As such, they violated the Greatest Happiness Principle. The scientists’ deceptions are not acceptable because of the pain caused and the happiness thwarted.

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