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“If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof.”

Excerpt From: “Utilitarianism.” iBooks.

First of all, is this sentence grammatically correct? If so, what is the subject of "is not so?"
Secondly, regardless of the correctness of the sentence, what does it mean?

Context:

“On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of the other theories, attempt to contribute something towards the understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and towards such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved to be good by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove that health is good? The art of music is good, for the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the cognisance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof."

Thank you all in advance.

  • 1. "whatever else is good" 2. What is taken to be an end in itself in ethics is like an axiom in logic rather than a theorem; we cannot prove it, because it's what we use as a basis to prove other things are good. – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 4:54
  • Nice question. Please wait a couple of days or so before accepting an answer. You may get an even better one. People may be less inclined to write an answer if one has already been accepted, less inclined perhaps to read your question either. This isn't very good for the site .... – Araucaria Sep 28 '15 at 8:35
  • @Araucaria Thanks for your reminder. Next time I will wait longer. – AmosSame Sep 28 '15 at 10:10
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This quote is from John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. JSM in this quote is going to ask you to agree with two assumptions, written as relative clauses with "that" and introduced by

If, then, it is asserted

  1. that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good

That is, assume we can come up with a list of those things that are intrinsically good. He'll call those kind of things "ends." And

  1. that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean

Assume that there may be other good things outside the list, but these don't belong on the list because they're not ends, but rather means, i.e., the agency or way to obtain an end that is on the list. (The OED notes that "mean" in the singular denoting agency is archaic, but then Mill published Utilitarianism in 1863. Today we use "means" in contrast to "end," even in the singular: "a means to an end.")

These two assumptions form the compound protasis, the subordinate "if" clause conditions from which Mill will derive the apodosis, the "then" clause conclusion, which is

[then] the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof.

That is, we may argue about what things should be on the "good" list, but we won't be able to agree based on common notions of "proof," e.g, by manipulating logical propositions. The statement sets up a discussion of utilitarianism, which sets out the ethics of action (the means) regardless of what can be agreed upon as the results (the ends).

Finally, to answer your syntax question, the subject of "is not good" is the noun clause "whatever else is good"

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I'd put it like this to explain:

"...whatever else is good, is not [good] as an end, but as a mean..."

It is perfectly correct, if not a bit chunky (but de gustibus non est disputandum).

As to the meaning, it seems to be presenting the age-old "how can we call something truly good?" question. The passage (put basically) seems to be pointing out a debate of the good being contained in that which something causes (its "end") or the methods it takes to get there (its "mean[s]"). There's more philosophy than language there, though, and more than I could get at in a short answer.

Hope this helps!

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