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A Brief Analysis Of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

1019 words - 4 pages

This work has probably received more analysis than any other work on utilitarianism available. However, I seek to do here what many others have been unable to accomplish so far. I hope to, in five paragraphs, cover each of the chapters of Utilitarianism in enough depth to allow any reader to decide whether or not they subscribe to Mill's doctrine, and if so, which part or parts they subscribe to. I do this with the realization that much of Mill's deliberation in the text will be completely gone. I suggest that anyone who seeks to fully understand Mill's work should read it at length.
In the first chapter, Mill remarks on society's need for a simple defined foundation for our morals which should be based on personal experiences. He believes that this set of morals should be determined by their consequences, and proposes utilitarianism as a solution. Mill makes several assumptions here that many readers consider objectionable. He believes that a moral code can be simplified to a single basic principle, that morals should be based on experience, and that consequences, not intentions, determine the morality of an action. An objection to any of these statements would undermine Mill's fundamental assumptions.
Mill's second chapter elaborates on utilitarianism: “[. . .] actions are right so far as they promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness, is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” Mill asserts that utilitarianism is not simply referring to primitive forms of pleasure, but places weight on “[. . .] pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination [. . .].” In this way, actions should not only seek the greatest quantity of pleasure, but also the greatest quality. A potential problem with this is the equivocation of several different types of pleasure. How does one, for example, compare the admiration of a painting to the admiration of music? Mill goes on to state that utilitarianism is not concerned as much with the pleasure of the individual as it is with the pleasure of society in general. He observes the objection that this demands a motivation to promote the greatest happiness for all, but counters by removing motivation from the picture. Utilitarianism is not concerned with motivations, but with ends. Another objection concerns the inability to determine all possible outcomes of all possible choices in a given situation. Mill means to apply utilitarianism to rules, not to individual situations (unless a precedent has not been established). Mill also responds to a number of objections which are unanswerable by many philosophies, including utilitarianism's godlessness, the infirmities of human nature, and whether happiness is attainable or necessary. Mill only states that these objections apply equally well to other philosophies, and does not directly address them.
Mill dedicates his third chapter to the consequences for rejecting...

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