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Phil 201 Essay On Utilitarianism

1967 words - 8 pages

Mill's Utilitarianism held that things and actions were good in proportion to the amount of happiness they engendered and the amount of people they engendered happiness in - in other words, the aim was for the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Utilitarianism further holds that actions are right insofar as they promote happiness and wrong insofar as they promote unhappiness. Mill explains that some kinds of happiness are innately greater than others, as was shown by people favoring one over the other. Ignorance may be bliss, but Mill held that no learned person would choose to be ignorant even if the ignorant were, in a way, happier than him or her. "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." He claimed.But what is happiness? According to Mill, Happiness is pleasure or the absence of pain; unhappiness is pain or the absence of pleasure. Holding pleasure and happiness as the ultimate good is a principle Utilitarianism shares with Hedonism. This leads immediately to a criticism that Mill clearly wants to block: if pleasure is all that matters, then why isn't utilitarianism a swine's philosophy? Why doesn't it imply that a life of crude sensual pleasure is as good as any other life?Mill's first point is that if humans were only capable of the sorts of pleasures that swine are capable of, then a "piggish" life would be the highest good. But in fact, humans are capable of many pleasures that aren't available to swine at all. Still, the raw pleasure involved in, say, drowning a pint of ice cream is usually a lot more intense than the pleasures of listening to Beethoven. So even on Mill's criterion, it might seem that the swinish life still comes out on top. Mill would argue that this is wrong, he would point us to an obvious fact: There are people who like good ice cream but who, if given the choice, would frequently choose painting, Beethoven, chess, good conversation or playing tennis over eating ice cream. There are two points here. One is that, for reasons not having to do with the pleasure as such, some pleasures are preferable. They are more lasting, safer, less expensive, and so on, and what Mill takes to be the "higher" pleasures often fit into that category. So in Mill's view, on external grounds alone, a wise person would not choose a life of alcohol, drugs, or ice cream. Mill's second point is that, leaving external considerations such as permanence aside, pleasures are not ranked just by sheer quantity or intensity, they are also ranked by quality. Playing tennis well is hard work; it is often frustrating and even painful. It leads to plenty of dissatisfaction as one realizes their limitations or remembers missed opportunities for better play. People who work hard at tennis, however, find it enormously rewarding. Similarly, someone with little musical skill would find listening to recorded music much easier and more enjoyable than the first sounds...

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