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- John Stuart Mill- Utilitarianism
The ethical theory of John Stuart Mill is most extensively articulated in his classical text Utilitarianism Its goal is to justify the utilitarian principle as the foundation of morals.
This principle says actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote overall human happiness. So, Mill focuses on consequences of actions and not on rights nor ethical sentiments.
Educated by his father James Mill who was a close friend to Jeremy Bentham , John Stuart Mill came in contact with utilitarian thought at a very early stage of his life.
Utilitarianism PDF Details
Mill remained a utilitarian throughout his life. For its publication he brought old manuscripts into form and added some new material.
Mill planned from the beginning a separate book publication, which came to light in One must not forget that since his first reading of Bentham in the winter of , the time to which Mill dates his conversion to utilitarianism, forty years had passed.
Taken this way, Utilitarianism was anything but a philosophical accessory, and instead the programmatic text of a thinker who for decades had understood himself as a utilitarian and who was profoundly familiar with popular objections to the principle of utility in moral theory. Almost ten years earlier Mill had defended utilitarianism against the intuitionistic philosopher William Whewell Whewell on Moral Philosophy. The priority of the text was to popularize the fundamental thoughts of utilitarianism within influential circles.
This goal explains the composition of the work. After some general introductory comments, the text defends utilitarianism from common criticisms "What Utilitarianism Is". After this Mill turns to the question concerning moral motivation "Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility". What makes utilitarianism peculiar, according to Mill, is its hedonistic theory of the good CW 10, Utilitarians are, by definition, hedonists.
For this reason, Mill sees no need to differentiate between the utilitarian and the hedonistic aspect of his moral theory. Today we routinely differentiate between hedonism as a theory of the good and utilitarianism as a consequentialist theory of the right. Utilitarians are, for him, consequentialists who believe that pleasure is the only intrinsic value.
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Mill counts as one of the great classics of utilitarian thought; but this moral theory deviates from what many contemporary philosophers consider core features of utilitarianism. This explains why the question whether Mill is a utilitarian is more serious than it may appear on first inspection see Coope One may respond that this problem results from an anachronistic understanding of utilitarianism, and that it disappears if one abstains from imputing modern philosophical concepts on a philosopher of the nineteenth century.
However, this response would oversimplify matters. As mentioned before, Mill maintains that hedonism is the differentia specifica of utilitarianism; if he were not a hedonist, he would be no utilitarian by his own definition. His view of theory of life was monistic: There is one thing, and one thing only, that is intrinsically desirable, namely pleasure. In contrast to a form of hedonism that conceives pleasure as a homogeneous matter, Mill was convinced that some types of pleasure are more valuable than others in virtue of their inherent qualities.
Many philosophers hold that qualitative hedonism is no consistent position. Hedonism asserts that pleasure is the only intrinsic value.
Under this assumption, the critics argue, there can be no evaluative basis for the distinction between higher and lower pleasures.
Probably the first ones to raise this common objection were the British idealists F. Which inherent qualities make one kind of pleasure better than another, according to Mill?
These enjoyments make use of highly developed capacities, like judgment and empathy. This seems to be a surprising thing to say for a hedonist.
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However, Mill thought that we have a solid empirical basis for this view. According to him, the best obtainable evidence for value claims consists in what all or almost all people judge as valuable across a vast variety of cases and cultures.
This partly explains why he put such great emphasis on education. Until the s, the significance of the chapter had been largely overlooked. It then became one of the bridgeheads of a revisionist interpretation of Mill, which is associated with the work of David Lyons, John Skorupski and others.
Mill worked very hard to hammer the fifth chapter into shape and his success has great meaning for him. At the beginning of Utilitarianism, Mill postulates that moral judgments presume rules CW 10, In contrast to Kant who grounds his ethical theory on self-imposed rules, so-called maxims, Mill thinks that morality builds on social rules. But what makes social rules moral rules?
He maintains that we name a type of action morally wrong if we think that it should be sanctioned either through formal punishment, public disapproval external sanctions or through a bad conscience internal sanctions. Wrong or inexpedient actions are those that we cannot recommend to a person, like harming oneself. But in contrast to immoral actions, inexpedient actions are not worthy of being sanctioned. Mill differentiates various spheres of action.
The principle of utility governs not only morality, but also prudence and taste CW 8, It is not a moral principle but a meta-principle of practical reason Skorupski , But there are also fields of action, in which sanctions for wrong behavior would be inappropriate.
One of them is the sphere of self-regarding acts with which Mill deals in On Liberty. In this private sphere we can act at our convenience and indulge in inexpedient and utterly useless behavior as long as we do not harm others.
It is fundamental to keep in mind that Mill looks into morality as a social practice and not as autonomous self-determination by reason, like Kant.
For Kantians, moral deliberation determines those actions which we have the most reason to perform.
[PDF] Utilitarianism Book by John Stuart Mill Free Download (71 pages)
According to Mill, our moral obligations result from the justified part of the moral code of our society; and the task of moral philosophy consists in bringing the moral code of a society in better accordance with the principle of utility. In Utilitarianism, Mill designs the following model of moral deliberation. In the first step the actor should examine which of the rules secondary principles in the moral code of his or her society are pertinent in the given situation.
Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill
If in a given situation moral rules secondary principles conflict, then and only then can the second step invoke the formula of utility CW 10, as a first principle. Pointedly one could say: the principle of utility is for Mill not a component of morality, but instead its basis.
It serves the validation of rightness for our moral system and allows — as a meta-rule — the decision of conflicting norms.
The tacit influence of the principle of utility made sure that a considerable part of the moral code of our society is justified promotes general well-being. But other parts are clearly unjustified.
One case that worried Mill deeply was the role of women in Victorian Britain. Moral rules are also critical for Mill because he takes human action in essence as to be guided by dispositions. A virtuous person has the disposition to follow moral rules.
He repeats this point in his System of Logic and Utilitarianism :.
John stuart mills utilitarianism pdf995
CW 10, and 8, It is one thing to say that it could have optimal consequences and thus be objectively better to break a moral rule in a concrete singular case. Another is the question as to whether it would facilitate happiness to educate humans such that they would have the disposition to maximize situational utility.
Mill answers the latter in the negative. Again, the upshot is that education matters. Humans are guided by acquired dispositions.
John Stuart Mill
This makes moral degeneration, but also moral progress possible. There is considerable disagreement as to whether Mill should be read as a rule utilitarian or an indirect act utilitarian. Many philosophers look upon rule utilitarianism as an untenable position and favor an act utilitarian reading of Mill Crisp Under the pressure of many contradicting passages, however, a straightforward act utilitarian interpretation is difficult to sustain.
In Utilitarianism he seems to give two different formulations of the utilitarian standard. The first points in an act utilitarian, the second in a rule utilitarian direction. Since act and rule utilitarianism are incompatible claims about what makes actions morally right, the formulations open up the fundamental question concerning what style of utilitarianism Mill wants to advocate and whether his moral theory forms a consistent whole.
John Stuart Mill- Utilitarianism
Thus Mill is not to blame for failing to make explicit which of the two approaches he advocates. In the first and more famous formulation of the utilitarian standard First Formula Mill states:. The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to 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.
To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said …. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded…. Just a few pages later, following his presentation of qualitative hedonism, Mill gives his second formulation Second Formula :. According to the Greatest Happiness Principle … the ultimate end … is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; ….
This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality ; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct , by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.
CW, , emphasis mine. The Second Formula relates the principle of utility to rules and precepts and not to actions.
It seems to say that an act is correct when it corresponds to rules whose preservation increases the mass of happiness in the world. And this appears to be a rule-utilitarian conception. In the light of these passages, it is not surprising that the question whether Mill is an act- or a rule-utilitarian has been intensely debated. In order to understand his position it is important to differentiate between two ways of defining act and rule utilitarianism.
An action is objectively right if it is the thing which the agent has most reason to do. Act utilitarianism would say that an action is objectively right, if it actually promotes happiness.
For rule utilitarianism, in contrast, an action would be objectively right, if it actually corresponds to rules that promote happiness. Act utilitarianism requires us to aim for the maximization of happiness; rule utilitarianism, in contrast, requires us to observe rules that facilitate happiness. Understood as a theory about moral obligation, act utilitarianism postulates: Act in a way that promotes happiness the most.