John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of Happiness Essay

John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of Happiness Essay

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John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of Happiness


Along with other noted philosophers, John Stuart Mill developed the nineteenth century philosophy known as Utilitarianism - the contention that man should judge everything in life based upon its ability to promote the greatest individual happiness. While Bentham, in particular, is acknowledged as the philosophy’s founder, it was Mill who justified the axiom through reason. He maintained that because human beings are endowed with the ability for conscious thought, they are not merely satisfied with physical pleasures; humans strive to achieve pleasures of the mind as well. Once man has ascended to this high intellectual level, he desires to stay there, never descending to the lower level of existence from which he began. In Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, Mill contends that “pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends” (Mill, 7). Before addressing his argument, Mill defines the topic, “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, ‘Utility’, or the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle’, holds that 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” (Mill, 7). Like a true philosopher, Mill proposes objections to the utilitarian principle, which he then attempts to refute. Pleasure, according to Mill, has rather arrogantly been regarded as being little more than attempting to keep a pig satisfied. Because man has the intellectual capacity for reason, he should aspire for something more. Mill argues that is exactly what man does. He does not merely attempt to seek momentary pleasure, but in utilitarianism, has the option to choose that which provides him with the most pleasure.

According to Mill, “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, that is the more desirable pleasure” (Mill 8). Many have refuted Utilitarianism’s ideals and declared that man can live just as well without happiness. Mill acknowledges that this may be true in theory, that men do not conduct their lives in total pursuit of happiness, they still need a gauge with which to measure morality. Happiness ...


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This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to require that happiness is a good” (Mill 27). Simply, the normal rules concerning one’s desire for happiness do not apply. Happiness may mean different things to different people but as long as the quest of these desires do not inflict pain on others, this is an acceptable means to an end. Mill is ultimately successful in that he points out that contrary to popular belief, utilitarianism is not a completely selfish motivation that does not take into consideration the desires of others.

Virtue, while not completely synonymous with happiness, is a constituent of it. Thus, it is an attribute desirable to society as a whole. One who causes pain in others cannot be described as virtuous. In the final analysis, John Stuart Mill successfully proved his view by noting that happiness is not a completely comprehensive term. It is comprised of many components and represents different things to different people. Whether one is intent on wealthy, famous, or vituous, he is merely exercising different means to the same end which includes pleasures and freedom from pains.

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