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The Flaws Of Act Utilitarianism Essay

1775 words - 7 pages


In this paper I will argue that John Stuart Mill, the presenter of the most compelling theory of act-utilitarianism (AU), ultimately falls short in addressing the moral complexities which factor into man’s virtues and its effect on his motives for certain actions.
John Stuart Mill’s core arguments follow and contrast many theories established by Jeremy Bentham. Combining the idea of consequentialism, that consequences of actions are the sole factor in moral evaluation, and hedonism—which states that pleasure is the sole factor in considering the value of overall intrinsic good—AU argues that an action is right if its consequences yield the greatest amount of happiness for the general well-being. More precisely, Mill considers that the concept of morality consists of two main utilities in the Greatest Happiness Principle: mans’ pursuit of the intrinsic good of pleasure and his will to prevent or relieve himself of pain in achieving his ends. All other desires are derived from mans attempt to fulfill these goals which ultimately dictate his actions. He acknowledges the seemingly acute simplicity of the Happiness Principle may on the surface deduce human happiness as no more sophisticated than a pigs. However, he contends this by pointing out that “swine” can only experience simple pleasures whereas the human conscious allows a “higher”, more sophisticated mechanism for experiencing mental pleasures. Diverging from traditional AU theory, Mills gives much emphasis on the quality of particular individuals’ pleasure and happiness above their duties to have motives that serve the “quantity” of more people. One argument presented is that if a particular group of people were exposed to both of two pleasures A and B, if the general consensus amongst this group derived significantly greater happiness from pleasure A than pleasure B, than A must be considered the most desired pleasure. The key proponent to this hypothetical situation is that even if any perceivable moral obligations to option B seems apparent, such a notion of morality is rendered irrelevant and thus the quality of the group’s pleasure for pleasure A is considered justified, trumping over any displeasure expressed by a larger quantity of people excluded from this particular population (Timmons 117). Such conflicts of interest amongst the population will inevitably lead to a disparity of the utility for happiness within the greater “quantity”. Naturally then, in Mill’s AU theory it is said that most all actions taken by people are actions which should be intended for the benefit of themselves in reaching the ends to is means. Such actions are not bound to any formal duty to the rest of society. So long as, Mill claims, one does not violate or infringe upon the rights of others. The argument is summed in his idea that if each person attends to their own intrinsic pleasures on their pursuit towards personal happiness, than the aggregate happiness of achieved by the sum of its parts...

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