In this paper I will present and critically assess the concept of the principle of utility as given by John Stuart Mill. In the essay “What Utilitarianism Is” #, Mill presents the theory of Utilitarianism, which he summarizes in his “utility” or “greatest happiness principle” # (Mill 89). Mill’s focus is based on an action’s resulting “happiness,” # pleasure and absences of pain, or “unhappiness,” # discomfort and the nonexistence of contentment, rather than the intentions involved (Mill 89). After evaluating Mill’s principle, I will then end this essay by discussing my personal opinion about the doctrine and how I believe it can be altered to better suit real-life situations.
The principle of utility is based on the greatest amount of happiness an action results in to the largest quantity of people who are affected by the consequences (Mill 89). Mill believes people should sacrifice as much as they can from their own possible happiness so that more people may obtain equal happiness that is sufficient. In doing so, those who are aiding others are creating a society of ultimate happiness where everyone is content. Thus, Mill argues for quantity over quality to the extent where everyone has just enough contentment that they do not feel pain or deprivation. For example, according to the principle, if in the future there is an unbiased computerized system for selecting organ donors, those who are selected to donate their organs to two or more people are obligated to do so. In doing so, the single individual is saving the lives of a greater number of people, and thus creates more happiness than if he alone lived and the two or more people died.
In discussing if people would be motivated to relinquish their own prosperity to aid others, Mill thought such an act would only be made in cases of severe unhappiness (Mill 90). Individuals of higher faculties # are more likely to accept a small amount of suffering to provide assistance (Mill 89). However, those people with the means are reluctant to sacrifice an excessive amount that they would descend in status (Mill 89). Those who are of lower faculties #, and thus have less enjoyment, are more easily satisfied (Mill 90). Compared to their inferiors, people of higher classes continue to seek happiness and are never truly satisfied. Mill links this continuous search with dignity (Mill 90). Due to the sense of dignity, “someone will not feel envious of those who bear imperfections because he does not understand the benefits of those limitations” # (Mill 91). In explaining this concept, Mill compares a human being dissatisfied to a pig satisfied and Socrates dissatisfied to a fool satisfied. The pig and fool reason that they are well-off, but the human being and Socrates know they are superior because they are further educated (Mill 91).
On the issue of whom seeks the higher # or lower pleasures #, Mill associates the decision with inner will. Mill holds the belief that those who are capable of...