Professor LorkowskiPhilosophy 192-DL1
February 27, 2018
Analysis of J.S Mills Utilitarianism
John S. Mill’s is a classical utilitarian theorist born in 1806. His work on utilitarianism which is “the sum of individual pleasures and pains” (Chapter 5, section 2) is found in his essay Utilitarianism. Mill became a devoted follower of Jeremy Bentham, ….who believed the same principles that guided social morality also guided personal morality.
The principle of utility was one of the core foundations in John S. Mill’s Utilitarianism. Utility can best be described as “the greatest happiness principle” (Chapter 5-3) which states that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” according to Mill. When a person performs an action that is beneficial, or the proportion of happiness is greater than the…., said action is considered to be morally good according to Mill.
Utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of all people that result from an action. When considering an actions consequence, good or bad, we do not account the reason behind why a person performs it. Mill uses an example of a person saving another from drowning as a way to clarify this rule. Whether the motivation for the hero in this situation was to save the victim in hopes of being praised for his action or saving another because he believed it was his moral obligation, is meaningless to Mill. To save a person is morally right no matter what motive possessed this person to do so because the action saved a life.
To consider which action out to two or multiple is best we must “consider the likely or actual consequences of each alternative” (5-3). A compelling example shown in our textbook states that building a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge is neither good or bad. The action that results from the suicide barrier is what we must account for. If this barrier decreases the suicide rate of more than 1,400 people1 than it will ultimately increase happiness among many. Promoting the greatest amount of happiness is the only thing that matters to a utilitarian in this situation.
Utilitarian’s don’t focus on the intrinsic right or wrong that an action hold. They focus more on the happiness of all that an action affects. If an actions impact produces the greatest amount to happiness to the most amount of people, then the action is considered good and same holds true for the opposite scenario. Utilitarian’s are open to new ideas and evidence since they do not believe in the intrinsic value of an action. They welcome new perspectives on determining the goodness of a consequence. As stated in our text book “Any sort of consequences might be considered good—for example, power or fame or fortune.” (Chapter 5-4 Pleasure and Happiness). When we talk about classical utilitarianism, there is a focus on pleasure and happiness. All actions are condensed to some form of pleasure or happiness and the amount of happiness or pleasure is what is produced.
Actions may be considered good, but only to the level of happiness that they yield. These are called instrumental goods “because they are useful for attaining the goals of happiness and pleasure” (Chapter 5-4 Pleasure and Happiness). Education is an instrumental good. Reading and learning helps one to further achieve happiness and pleasure. The two terms, happiness and pleasure, are intrinsic goods because they don’t lead to something, they are what is being strived for.
Going back to classical utilitarianism pleasure and happiness are virtually the same, they can be used interchangeably. They both “refer to a kind of psychic state of satisfaction” (Chapter 5-4 Pleasure and Happiness) but, when talking about pleasure, humans can achieve different types. Mill believes that we can experience different forms of pleasure and satisfactions. Satisfying hunger and personal satisfaction aren’t the same thing, but they both produce pleasure. According to Mill, we should look at the range of pleasures we are able to experience in order to pick what action is best in a situation. The greatest happiness principle also states that we must “measure, count, and compare the pleasurable experiences likely to be produced by various alternative actions in order to know which is best.” (Chapter 5-4 Pleasure and Happiness). Mill’s belief is that when an action outweighs another by producing more happiness or pleasure than the favorable action is the one we must choose.