Essay about On Utilitarianism

Essay about On Utilitarianism

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In Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill gives an account for the reasons one must abide by the principles of Utilitarianism. Also referred to as the Greatest-happiness Principle, this doctrine promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people. More specifically, Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, holding that the right act is that which yields the greatest net utility, or "the total amount of pleasure minus the total amount of pain", for all individuals affected by said act (Joyce, lecture notes from 03/30).

In defining utilitarianism, J.S. Mill counters the popular belief that this theory only deals with the pleasure yielded by actions of individuals by stating that, "the theory of utility... [is] not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure... together with exemption from pain" (596). He goes on to argue that the foundation of this principle lies in the fact that an individual's action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to "produce the reverse of happiness" (597). For example, an enemy forcibly entered your village with the intent on killing every woman and child in town if no one turned over the sniper that took some of their men out. If you tell them who the sniper is, no harm will be done to the women and children, but since the sniper is long gone, you decide to tell the enemy that the town bum is the sniper. Since you judge his life to be of least worth in all of the village in terms of future goodness, would it be right to send him to his death? The answer is yes, this act would be the right act as it would promote the happiness in the rest of the village because his life isn't worth the hundreds of lives of women and children (Paraphrased from Joyce, ...


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... believe that if the intent of the agent's actions is to try to maximize the greater good or to create the greatest net utility possible, then it does not matter whether or not one is successful in carrying out his/her chosen act. Lastly, questions of morality and whether what one is doing in upholding the utilitarian concepts is "right" hold no ground. This is because utilitarianism clearly states that if the act in question maximizes the net utility, without causing harm or pain to all considered, the real moral question becomes, "Wouldn't you be morally wrong in not carrying out said act?"

Works Cited


  1. Feinberg, J. and Shafer-Landau, R. Reason and Responsibility: Twelfth Edition.Wadsworth/Thomson Publishing. 2005, pages 596-607.
  2. Joyce, J. Philosophy 232: Problems with Philosophy Lecture notes from March 30, 2005.


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