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John Mill's Utilitarianism - Essay Example

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Therefore, Utilitarianism is consequentialism - the morality of an action depended on its outcome, and on nothing else. Utility is happiness or pleasure, and suffering is disutility. Elements of the doctrine of Utilitarianism can be traced back to the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, although Jeremy Bentham is generally credited as the original propounder of this doctrine. "Nature", said Bentham, "has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think..." (Bentham, 1789, Ch I, p 1)
Whatever brought the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people was good, according to Bentham. And this was the starting point for John Mill, in his Utilitarianism. First, let us look at the theory as expounded by Mill, and then follow it up by an examination of its validity.
Mill stated that "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. ...
Mill clarifies what he, and other Utilitarians before him, means by the terms 'Utilitarian', 'pleasure' and 'pain'. Pleasure does not mean pleasure only in its "grossest form" (Mill Ch 2). He anticipates the criticism that his theory is likely to attract, stating that people may not agree that humans are only interested in the pursuit of pleasure, and are therefore no better than swine. He shrugs off criticism by stating that a misrepresentation of the meaning of the word 'pleasure' is due to the common assumption that humans are capable of wanting no higher pleasures than those sought by swine, and not due to an erroneous definition of the word by the Utilitarians. He acknowledges the fact that Epicurus, in his time had faced the same criticism, which the current advocates of Utilitarianism face.
Apart from quantity, utility or pleasure differed in quality as well. Some pleasures were of a higher or more refined nature like the "pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments." (Mill, Ch 2). How does one distinguish a more valuable pleasure from a less valuable one This is done by the simple expedient of checking with people. If a greater number of persons rate one type of pleasure at a higher level than another type of pleasure, then the former pleasure is qualitatively better than the latter. Mill argues that a human being, because of his powers of discrimination desires pleasures of a different kind than animals, and is therefore not easily satisfied. By his very nature he may be susceptible to more suffering than animals. However, no human being, would like to give up his human form to become animal, so that he is assured of greater pleasure - of the animal variety. This in itself speaks of a human ...Show more


Mill said, "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." Outline the view here; assess in detail one objection to this view
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was the son of James Mill, British historian and scholar, and the godson of Jeremy Bentham…
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John Mills Utilitarianism essay example
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