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Utilitarianism, By John Stuart Mill Essay

2492 words - 10 pages

In John Stuart Mill’s work Utilitarianism, Mill is trying to provide proof for his moral theory utilitarianism and disprove all the objections against it. Mill defines utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness" (Ch. II, page 7). He calls this the “greatest happiness principle. Mill says, “No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except the fact that each person desires his own happiness, so far as he thinks it is attainable. But this is a fact; so we have not only all the proof that could be possibly demanded, that happiness is a good; that each person’s happiness is a good to that person; and therefore that general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made good its claim to be one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of morality” (Ch. IV, page 35). Mill’s book supports his theory that happiness is the sole basis of morality because people never desire anything but happiness and this desire will bring the greatest good for the greater number of people.
In the second chapter, Mill provides the definition of utility is the existence of pleasure and the absence of pain, and according to Mill this is happiness. However, he explains that utilitarianism does not say that it is moral for people simply to pursue what makes them happy personally but what is more important to him is the happiness for all people. Mill’s argument is that moral actions are what increase the total amount of utility in the world. Therefore, pursuing one's own happiness at the expense of social happiness would not be moral under his framework. Mill tries to support his beliefs further by taking on the claim that it is “selfish and base” to conclude that the meaning of life is purely about pleasure. Mill disproves this criticism by explaining that human pleasures are superior to animalistic ones. He believes once people are knowledgeable of these higher faculties that they possess, they will never be happy if they are left uncultivated. Therefore happiness is a sign that we are exercising our higher faculties as human beings. While defending his theory, Mill goes into differentiate pleasures between quality and quantity; this suggesting that some pleasure are more valuable than others. According to Mill higher quality pleasures are of intellect and moral feeling, while lower quality pleasures are of sense. He explains that when making a moral judgment on an action, utilitarianism takes into account not just the quantity, but also the quality of the pleasures resulting from it. He attributes this to human dignity, which is necessary when discussing the topic of morality and credibility of his beliefs.
This discussion of pleasures leads Mill to another criticism that utilitarianism has developed because of contentment not happiness. His understanding and argument for...

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