Pleasure is a subjective facet of individual experience, and cannot be directly compared in quality, only in quantity, between people. Thus, an action is moral if and only if it maximizes pleasure. This runs in contrast to Kantian and deontological ethical theories that place value not in its results, but in its conformity to the universal, categorical imperatives governing human action. But while deontological theories are not without their due criticism, utilitarian theses in the field of ethics deserve critical scrutiny as well, and they have received this scrutiny since the 19th century when such theories were first popularized. While utilitarianism holds some merits as an alternative to deontic and virtue ethics, the theory itself rests upon a number of false premises that ultimately undermine the strength and integrity of any complete system based upon the consequentialist attitude.
Utilitarianism, under this characterization, seems to constitute nothing more than a primitive hedonism in which individuals fight and compete to satisfy their transient, fleeting desires for pleasures and happiness. However, John Stewart Mill’s development of the utilitarian thesis suggests that because a human being is capable of higher pleasures, and a wider range of them, the happiness of a pig is not on the same level even as the unhappiness of a human being based on the range of difference of the subjective experience (Mill 94). But while Mill’s formulation of utilitarianism holds to the value of human happiness, it remains a form of hedonism that runs contrary to many modern individuals’ intuitive notion of what it means to be moral. Utilitarianism, however, in its initial formulation, does not require a defense of utility in order for the theory to succeed, for it is also the case people intuitively agree with the principle of utility, saying that happiness-maximization is what all people desire. As a form of