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Consequentialism. Utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

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John stuart mill 1806 1873
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

  • Principle of Utility: 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. (Utilitarianism, Chapter II)

  • Mill’s utilitarianism is a modification of the hedonism expounded upon by Jeremy Bentham.

    • Bentham advocated a form of utilitarianism known as hedonism, where pleasure (regardless of the type of pleasure) was to be maximized and pain minimized.

    • Bentham’s hedonic calculus: Value = intensity, duration, certainty/uncertainty, closeness/remoteness in time, fecundity, purity.

  • 2. One of the classic criticisms of utilitarianism is that it is the ethics of swine.

  • 3. One of the modifications Mill makes to utilitarianism is to include a notion of qualitative vs. quantitative pleasures.

Mill s defense of utilitarianism
Mill’s Defense of Utilitarianism

  • If human beings were only capable of experiencing the things that swine can, then the criticism would perhaps be telling.

  • Human beings have faculties much more elevated than swine, and require different types of gratification of the higher faculties in order to be happy.

  • “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”

Quantitative vs q ualitative pleasures
Quantitative vs. Qualitative pleasures.

  • “Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.”

  • We don’t always follow the calling of our higher faculties, but few if any people would consent to having their faculties lowered to that of a mere brute.

  • For Mill, it is the competent judge, i.e., those who have experience of both pleasures who are the authority on quantitative vs. qualitative pleasures.

Proof for the principle of utility
Proof for the Principle of Utility

  • The only evidence we have that something is visible is that people actually see it, the only evidence that something is audible is that people hear it. Similarly the only way we know something is desirable is that people actually desire it.

Why then is the general happiness desirable
Why then is the general happiness desirable?

1) Each person desires his own happiness

2) Happiness is a good.

3) Each person’s happiness is a good to that person.

4)Therefore, the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons.

  • Fallacy of Composition

Rule utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism

  • Although Mill advocates acceptance of the Greatest Happiness Principle some have argued that Mill did not believe it should be used to guide individual actions

When to use the principle of utility
When to Use the Principle of Utility

  • Principle of utility was to be used to derive and adjudicate between other moral rules.

  • We appeal to the principle of utility only when two moral rules or principles conflict.

  • Some philosophers have argued that this is how the Principle of Utility should be understood, i.e., that it applies to types of actions and not token actions.

Debate over utilitarianism
Debate Over Utilitarianism

  • Happiness is not the only thing that matters

  • Consequences are not the only things that matter

  • Utilitarianism is too demanding of a moral theory

Defense of utilitarianism
Defense of Utilitarianism

  • Fanciful examples don’t count against a theory

  • Principle of utility is a guide to choosing rules not judging individual acts

  • Common sense can’t be trusted