MILL 2 GREATEST HAPPINESS: NOT AS SIMPLE AS IT MAY SEEM
JOHN STUART MILL 1806-1873 with Harriet Taylor Mill 1807-1858 Collaborator and Co-author? Married in 1851
J. S. Mill on Harriet’s death: “Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.”
The Greatest Happiness Principle Happiness is the summum bonum: “pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends [=good in themselves]” Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP): “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”
The Greatest Happiness Principle Note: GHP concerns actions [but may be applied to anything: persons, practices, laws, devices, etc. Happiness =DEF “pleasure and the absence of pain” (643, cf. 646) “Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof” (642)
GHP - COMPLICATION 1 Quantity vs. Quality (643-5) Assumption: there are higher (mental) and lower (bodily) pleasures “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (644) [better=more pleasant?]
GHP - COMPLICATION 1 SO: We should choose the higher pleasures. Why? Because they give us greater pleasure. [greater?] “…greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc.” (647) How do we know? Decision of “competent judges,” those who have experienced both types of pleasure (645), by majority rule. Also see: discussion of moral progress, p. 647.
GHP - COMPLICATION 1 PROBLEM: If higher quality pleasures are more intense or durable, no distinction in quality is needed. If not, then pleasure is not sufficient.
GHP - COMPLICATION 2 Self vs. Others (645-649) GHP “…standard is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether” “…whole sentient creation” must be considered (646). Explains heroes/martyrs: “…self-sacrifice must be for some end; it is not its own end” (648)
GHP - COMPLICATION 2 PROBLEM: Individual rights are [must be?] sacrificed for the general good. Examples: 1. The philosopher and the rugby team: confrontation in The Beaver 2. Rawls: Innocent hanged to curtail rioting REPLY: Rights and liberties must be protected in order that people be happy.
GHP - COMPLICATION 3 Act vs. Motive (649) “He who saves a fellow creature from drowning does what ismorally right, whether his motive be duty or the hope of being paid…” “…no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all that we do shall be a feeling of duty.”
GHP - COMPLICATION 4 Act vs. Agent (650) “…no ethical standard decides an action to be good or bad because it is done by a good or a bad man.” [Implies that the GHP can be applied to both actions and agents—which makes sense.]
GHP - COMPLICATION 5 Act vs. Rule (651) Since GHP applies to actions, not rules, lying [killing, stealing, enslaving, etc.] may not only morally permitted but required. Mill’s example: the rule against lying, “sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions…” Details: keeping truth of son’s death from dangerously ill mother. Is this really a problem for utilitarianism?
GHP - COMPLICATION 5 Act vs. Rule More examples of permitted “immoral” acts: Bad last will and testament Nazis at the door, Jews hiding in the attic Stealing loaf of bread to save child Rawl’s: selling oneself into slavery Two types of utilitarianism: Act Utilitarianism Rule Utilitarianism
GHP - COMPLICATION 6 Utilitarianism vs. Religion (651) Objection: utilitarianism is a “godless doctrine” “If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures,” then utilitarianism is not a godless doctrine. “…we need a doctrine of ethics…to interpret to us the will of God”
GHP - COMPLICATION 7 Theory vs. Practice (652) “…there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct.” SO: use “intermediate generalizations.” [“rules of thumb”] Analogy: nautical almanac & navigation.