In his essay, Utilitarianism Mill elaborates on Utilitarianism as a moral theory and responds to misconceptions about it. Utilitarianism, in Mill’s words, is the view that »actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.«1 In that way, Utilitarianism offers an answer to the fundamental question Ethics is concerned about: ‘How should one live?’ or ‘What is the good or right way to live?’.
In the first chapter, General Remarks, Mill points out that, even after 2000 years, this fundamental question remains controversial. In his opinion, neither the idea of a natural moral faculty nor the idea of intuitionism can help to solve the problem. Most of the people who have tried to solve it, however, have been influenced ‘tacitly’ by the greatest-happiness principle, the author argues.
At the end of chapter 1 Mill conveys the ‘plan of his essay’: an account of and considerations in favor of Utilitarianism, equivalent to a proof, although a direct proof can never be given of any end.2 Before offering this kind of proof, however, Mill draws the reader’s attention to Utilitarianism itself and deals with some common objections to it in chapter 2.
In Chapter 2, What Utilitarianism is, Mill presents the aforesaid definition of Utilitarianism as the criterion of an action to be right or wrong. We have seen that Utilitarianism puts great emphasis on happiness. »By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.«3 The fact that pleasure is the only good for Mill makes his Utilitarianism a form of Hedonism which is most associated with the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus who claims that »Pleasure is our first and kindred good.«4 The difference to Epicurus’ Hedonism, however, is that »the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned.«5
Being a Hedonist, Mill tries to respond to what is referred to as The Philosophy of Swine Objection: ‘since hedonistic utilitarianism suggests that nothing is good except pleasure, it is a philosophy worthy of pigs. Human happiness is different from animal happiness, in fact humans have higher faculti...
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...w much time do we have to decide whether the maxim we follow with our action could act as a natural law?
It seems that the greatest-happiness principle does not only represent men’s nature in the best way10 but also serves as the best alternative to other moral guides.
Crisp, Roger: J.S. Mill Utilitarianism, Oxford University Press, New York 1999.
Crisp, Roger: Routledge philosophy guidebook to Mill on utilitarianism / Roger Crisp. London : Routledge, 1997.
Mill, John Stuart: Utilitarianism in Coursepack for PY1101
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