The Flaws of Act-Utilitarianism Essay

The Flaws of Act-Utilitarianism Essay

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In this paper I will argue that John Stuart Mill, the presenter of the most compelling theory of act-utilitarianism (AU), ultimately falls short in addressing the moral complexities which factor into man’s virtues and its effect on his motives for certain actions.
John Stuart Mill’s core arguments follow and contrast many theories established by Jeremy Bentham. Combining the idea of consequentialism, that consequences of actions are the sole factor in moral evaluation, and hedonism—which states that pleasure is the sole factor in considering the value of overall intrinsic good—AU argues that an action is right if its consequences yield the greatest amount of happiness for the general well-being. More precisely, Mill considers that the concept of morality consists of two main utilities in the Greatest Happiness Principle: mans’ pursuit of the intrinsic good of pleasure and his will to prevent or relieve himself of pain in achieving his ends. All other desires are derived from mans attempt to fulfill these goals which ultimately dictate his actions. He acknowledges the seemingly acute simplicity of the Happiness Principle may on the surface deduce human happiness as no more sophisticated than a pigs. However, he contends this by pointing out that “swine” can only experience simple pleasures whereas the human conscious allows a “higher”, more sophisticated mechanism for experiencing mental pleasures. Diverging from traditional AU theory, Mills gives much emphasis on the quality of particular individuals’ pleasure and happiness above their duties to have motives that serve the “quantity” of more people. One argument presented is that if a particular group of people were exposed to both of two pleasures A and B, if the general c...


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...stance on the complementary relationship between pleasure, happiness, and being virtuous seems to hold a level of credence. While it would be ideal that these three ideals hold synonymous meaning within all of society, the gaps found in examining the “humanitarians” and their justifications which fall within the accepted guidelines of Mill’s doctrine of AU are alarming. Therefore, while it is difficult to dismiss that some men are compelled by evil inherently evil intentions, from a moral theory standpoint AU should be seen as what was an essential stepping stone to the modern Rossian pluralism. Through its introduction of the idea that we must consider and balance specific moral duties, including the duty to obey laws and to not lie in coming to an all-things-considered moral judgment, it is undeniable that RP has plugged the holes in UA’s leaking ship of virtue.

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