Utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill. 1: General remarks. Chapter 1: General Remarks. Little progress has been made towards deciding the contro- versy concerning. 6/John Stuart Mill insufficiently made out, than algebra; which derives none of its cer- tainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements, since. Project Gutenberg · 59, free ebooks · 18 by John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill. No cover available. Download; Bibrec.

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Cambridge Core - Philosophy Texts - Utilitarianism - by John Stuart Mill. PDF; Export citation. Contents. pp vii-viii CHAPTER II - WHAT UTILITARIANISM IS. PDF | This paper considers the writings of John Stuart Mill in political philosophy and political economy as a prototype for ideals of a 'sustainable development'. philosopher John Stuart Mill ( ) who developed the theory from a plain hedonistic most clearly stated by Mill, the basic principle of utilitarianism is.

Few people, he claims, would choose to trade places with an animal, a fool, or an ignoramus for any amount of bodily pleasure they might thereby acquire. And since "the sole evidence it is possible to produce that something is desirable, is that people do actually desire it," [7] it follows that intellectual pleasures e.

In reply to the objection that there generally isn't enough time to calculate how a given act might affect the long-term general happiness, Mill sketches a kind of "two-tier" approach to ethics that accords an important place to moral rules in ethical decision-making.

Normally we should follow such "secondary principles" without reflecting much on the consequences of our acts. As a rule, only when such second-tier principles conflict is it necessary or wise to appeal to the principle of utility directly.

He explores a variety of ways in which both external and internal sanctions — that is, the incentives provided by others and the inner feelings of sympathy and conscience — encourage people to think about how their actions affect the happiness of others.

The ultimate sanction, Mill claims, is internal. Humans are social animals who naturally desire "to be in unity with our fellow creatures. In the fourth chapter Mill offers his famous quasi-proof of the greatest-happiness principle.

The core of his argument is this: Everyone desires happiness. The only proof that something is desirable is that people do actually desire it. So, each person's happiness is a good to that person. Therefore, the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons. In such cases, is the general happiness a good to those individuals?

Other critics have questioned whether it makes sense to speak of aggregates as having desires, [13] or whether the fact that something is desired proves that it is desirable. Critics of utilitarianism often claim that judging actions solely in terms of their effects on the general happiness is incompatible with a robust respect for individual rights and a duty to treat people as they deserve.

Mill appreciates the force of this objection and argues that feelings of justice are rooted in both a natural human desire to retaliate for injuries and a natural instinct for sympathy for those who have been wrongly injured; that justice has a utilitarian basis since an injustice is committed only when a person's rights have been violated, and an alleged right should be protected by society only when doing so promotes the general happiness; that people disagree deeply about what sorts of things are and are not just, and utilitarianism provides the only rational basis for resolving such conflicts.

Simple-minded pleasures, sensual pleasures, were just as good, at least intrinsically, than more sophisticated and complex pleasures.

The pleasure of drinking a beer in front of the T. Second, Bentham's view that there were no qualitative differences in pleasures also left him open to the complaint that on his view human pleasures were of no more value than animal pleasures and, third, committed him to the corollary that the moral status of animals, tied to their sentience, was the same as that of humans.

While harming a puppy and harming a person are both bad, however, most people had the view that harming the person was worse. Mill sought changes to the theory that could accommodate those sorts of intuitions. To this end, Mill's hedonism was influenced by perfectionist intuitions. There are some pleasures that are more fitting than others. Intellectual pleasures are of a higher, better, sort than the ones that are merely sensual, and that we share with animals.

To some this seems to mean that Mill really wasn't a hedonistic utilitarian. His view of the good did radically depart from Bentham's view. However, like Bentham, the good still consists in pleasure, it is still a psychological state. There is certainly that similarity. Further, the basic structures of the theories are the same for more on this see Donner The rationale for all the rights he recognizes is utilitarian.

He doesn't attempt a mere appeal to raw intuition. Instead, he argues that those persons who have experienced both view the higher as better than the lower.

Who would rather be a happy oyster, living an enormously long life, than a person living a normal life? Moore — criticized this as fallacious. He argued that it rested on an obvious ambiguity:. The distinctions he makes strike many as intuitively plausible ones. Bentham, however, can accommodate many of the same intuitions within his system. This is because he notes that there are a variety of parameters along which we quantitatively measure pleasure — intensity and duration are just two of those.

His complete list is the following: Thus, what Mill calls the intellectual pleasures will score more highly than the sensual ones along several parameters, and this could give us reason to prefer those pleasures — but it is a quantitative not a qualitative reason, on Bentham's view. When a student decides to study for an exam rather than go to a party, for example, she is making the best decision even though she is sacrificing short term pleasure. That's because studying for the exam, Bentham could argue, scores higher in terms of the long term pleasures doing well in school lead to, as well as the fecundity of the pleasure in leading to yet other pleasures.

However, Bentham will have to concede that the very happy oyster that lives a very long time could, in principle, have a better life than a normal human. Mill's version of utilitarianism differed from Bentham's also in that he placed weight on the effectiveness of internal sanctions — emotions like guilt and remorse which serve to regulate our actions. This is an off-shoot of the different view of human nature adopted by Mill.

We are the sorts of beings that have social feelings, feelings for others, not just ourselves. We care about them, and when we perceive harms to them this causes painful experiences in us. When one perceives oneself to be the agent of that harm, the negative emotions are centered on the self.


One feels guilt for what one has done, not for what one sees another doing. Like external forms of punishment, internal sanctions are instrumentally very important to appropriate action. Mill also held that natural features of human psychology, such as conscience and a sense of justice, underwrite motivation. The sense of justice, for example, results from very natural impulses.

Like Bentham, Mill sought to use utilitarianism to inform law and social policy. The aim of increasing happiness underlies his arguments for women's suffrage and free speech. We can be said to have certain rights, then — but those rights are underwritten by utility.

If one can show that a purported right or duty is harmful, then one has shown that it is not genuine. Improving the social status of women was important because they were capable of these cultivated faculties, and denying them access to education and other opportunities for development is forgoing a significant source of happiness.

Further, the men who would deny women the opportunity for education, self-improvement, and political expression do so out of base motives, and the resulting pleasures are not ones that are of the best sort.

Bentham and Mill both attacked social traditions that were justified by appeals to natural order. The correct appeal is to utility itself.

In the latter part of the 20th century some writers criticized utilitarianism for its failure to accommodate virtue evaluation. However, though virtue is not the central normative concept in Mill's theory, it is an extremely important one.

In Chapter 4 of Utilitarianism Mill noted. In Utilitarianism Mill argues that virtue not only has instrumental value, but is constitutive of the good life. A person without virtue is morally lacking, is not as able to promote the good. Wendy Donner notes that separating virtue from right allows Mill to solve another problem for the theory: This is the problem that holds that if we ought to maximize utility, if that is the right thing to do, then doing right requires enormous sacrifices under actual conditions , and that requiring such sacrifices is too demanding.

With duties, on Mill's view, it is important that we get compliance, and that justifies coercion. Henry Sidgwick's — The Methods of Ethics is one of the most well known works in utilitarian moral philosophy, and deservedly so.

It offers a defense of utilitarianism, though some writers Schneewind have argued that it should not primarily be read as a defense of utilitarianism. On Sidgwick's view, utilitarianism is the more basic theory. A simple reliance on intuition, for example, cannot resolve fundamental conflicts between values, or rules, such as Truth and Justice that may conflict.

Further, the rules which seem to be a fundamental part of common sense morality are often vague and underdescribed, and applying them will actually require appeal to something theoretically more basic — again, utilitarianism.

Yet further, absolute interpretations of rules seem highly counter-intuitive, and yet we need some justification for any exceptions — provided, again, by utilitarianism. Sidgwick provides a compelling case for the theoretical primacy of utilitarianism. Sidgwick was also a British philosopher, and his views developed out of and in response to those of Bentham and Mill.

His Methods offer an engagement with the theory as it had been presented before him, and was an exploration of it and the main alternatives as well as a defense. Sidgwick was also concerned with clarifying fundamental features of the theory, and in this respect his account has been enormously influential to later writers, not only to utilitarians and consequentialists, generally, but to intuitionists as well. Sidgwick's thorough and penetrating discussion of the theory raised many of the concerns that have been developed by recent moral philosophers.

One extremely controversial feature of Sidgwick's views relates to his rejection of a publicity requirement for moral theory. He writes:. This accepts that utilitarianism may be self-effacing; that is, that it may be best if people do not believe it, even though it is true.

One issue raised in the above remarks is relevant to practical deliberation in general. To what extent should proponents of a given theory, or a given rule, or a given policy — or even proponents of a given one-off action — consider what they think people will actually do, as opposed to what they think those same people ought to do under full and reasonable reflection, for example?

Extrapolating from the example used above, we have people who advocate telling the truth, or what they believe to be the truth, even if the effects are bad because the truth is somehow misused by others.

On the other hand are those who recommend not telling the truth when it is predicted that the truth will be misused by others to achieve bad results. Of course it is the case that the truth ought not be misused, that its misuse can be avoided and is not inevitable, but the misuse is entirely predictable.

Sidgwick seems to recommending that we follow the course that we predict will have the best outcome, given as part of our calculations the data that others may fail in some way — either due to having bad desires, or simply not being able to reason effectively.

The History of Utilitarianism

The worry Williams points to really isn't a worry specifically with utilitarianism Driver And of course, that heavily influences our intuitions. Sidgwick raised issues that run much deeper to our basic understanding of utilitarianism. For example, the way earlier utilitarians characterized the principle of utility left open serious indeterminacies.

The major one rests on the distinction between total and average utility. He raised the issue in the context of population growth and increasing utility levels by increasing numbers of people or sentient beings:.

For Sidgwick, the conclusion on this issue is not to simply strive to greater average utility, but to increase population to the point where we maximize the product of the number of persons who are currently alive and the amount of average happiness.


So it seems to be a hybrid, total-average view. This discussion also raised the issue of policy with respect to population growth, and both would be pursued in more detail by later writers, most notably Derek Parfit Moore strongly disagreed with the hedonistic value theory adopted by the Classical Utilitarians.

Moore agreed that we ought to promote the good, but believed that the good included far more than what could be reduced to pleasure. He was a pluralist, rather than a monist, regarding intrinsic value. A beautiful object had value independent of any pleasure it might generate in a viewer.

Thus, Moore differed from Sidgwick who regarded the good as consisting in some consciousness. Some objective states in the world are intrinsically good, and on Moore's view, beauty is just such a state. He used one of his more notorious thought experiments to make this point: The question then is, which of these worlds is better, which one's existence would be better than the other's?

Of course, Moore believed it was clear that the beautiful world was better, even though no one was around to appreciate its beauty. This emphasis on beauty was one facet of Moore's work that made him a darling of the Bloomsbury Group. If beauty was a part of the good independent of its effects on the psychological states of others — independent of, really, how it affected others, then one needn't sacrifice morality on the altar of beauty anymore.

Following beauty is not a mere indulgence, but may even be a moral obligation. Gauguin may have abandoned his wife and children, but it was to a beautiful end. Moore's targets in arguing against hedonism were the earlier utilitarians who argued that the good was some state of consciousness such as pleasure.

He actually waffled on this issue a bit, but always disagreed with Hedonism in that even when he held that beauty all by itself was not an intrinsic good, he also held that for the appreciation of beauty to be a good the beauty must actually be there, in the world, and not be the result of illusion. Moore further criticized the view that pleasure itself was an intrinsic good, since it failed a kind of isolation test that he proposed for intrinsic value.

If one compared an empty universe with a universe of sadists, the empty universe would strike one as better. This is true even though there is a good deal of pleasure, and no pain, in the universe of sadists.

This would seem to indicate that what is necessary for the good is at least the absence of bad intentionality. The pleasures of sadists, in virtue of their desires to harm others, get discounted — they are not good, even though they are pleasures.

Note this radical departure from Bentham who held that even malicious pleasure was intrinsically good, and that if nothing instrumentally bad attached to the pleasure, it was wholly good as well. The principle of organic unity is vague, and there is some disagreement about what Moore actually meant in presenting it. So, for example, one cannot determine the value of a body by adding up the value of its parts. Some parts of the body may have value only in relation to the whole. An arm or a leg, for example, may have no value at all separated from the body, but have a great deal of value attached to the body, and increase the value of the body, even.

In the section of Principia Ethica on the Ideal, the principle of organic unity comes into play in noting that when persons experience pleasure through perception of something beautiful which involves a positive emotion in the face of a recognition of an appropriate object — an emotive and cognitive set of elements , the experience of the beauty is better when the object of the experience, the beautiful object, actually exists.


The idea was that experiencing beauty has a small positive value, and existence of beauty has a small positive value, but combining them has a great deal of value, more than the simple addition of the two small values PE, ff. Moore noted: This principle in Moore — particularly as applied to the significance of actual existence and value, or knowledge and value, provided utilitarians with tools to meet some significant challenges. For example, deluded happiness would be severely lacking on Moore's view, especially in comparison to happiness based on knowledge.

Since the early 20th Century utilitarianism has undergone a variety of refinements. But the influence of the Classical Utilitarians has been profound — not only within moral philosophy, but within political philosophy and social policy.

It is a completely secular, forward-looking question. The articulation and systematic development of this approach to policy formation is owed to the Classical Utilitarians. The editors would like to thank Gintautas Miliauskas Vilnius University for notifying us about several typographical errors in this entry. Precursors to the Classical Approach 2.

The Classical Approach 2. Henry Sidgwick 4. Ideal Utilitarianism 5. Precursors to the Classical Approach Though the first systematic account of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham — , the core insight motivating the theory occurred much earlier. In comparing the moral qualities of actions…we are led by our moral sense of virtue to judge thus; that in equal degrees of happiness, expected to proceed from the action, the virtue is in proportion to the number of persons to whom the happiness shall extend and here the dignity , or moral importance of persons, may compensate numbers ; and, in equal numbers , the virtue is the quantity of the happiness, or natural good; or that the virtue is in a compound ratio of the quantity of good, and number of enjoyers….

R, —4 Scarre notes that some hold the moral sense approach incompatible with this emphasis on the use of reason to determine what we ought to do; there is an opposition between just apprehending what's morally significant and a model in which we need to reason to figure out what morality demands of us. But Scarre notes these are not actually incompatible: The picture which emerges from Hutcheson's discussion is of a division of labor, in which the moral sense causes us to look with favor on actions which benefit others and disfavor those which harm them, while consequentialist reasoning determines a more precise ranking order of practical options in given situations.

Scarre, 53—54 Scarre then uses the example of telling a lie to illustrate: The circumstances from which this antipathy may have taken its rise may be worth enquiring to….

One is the physical antipathy to the offence…. The act is to the highest degree odious and disgusting, that is, not to the man who does it, for he does it only because it gives him pleasure, but to one who thinks [? Be it so, but what is that to him? Bentham OAO , v.

Mill also argued that the principle could be proven, using another rather notorious argument: The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people actually see it…. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable is that people do actually desire it.

If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory and in practiced, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so.

He argued that it rested on an obvious ambiguity: In Chapter 4 of Utilitarianism Mill noted … does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people desire virtue, or maintain that virtue is not a thing to be desired?

The very reverse. It maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but also that it is to be desired disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the opinion of utilitarian moralists as to the original conditions by which virtue is made virtue … they not only place virtue at the very head of things which are good as a means to the ultimate end, but they also recognize as a psychological fact the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself, without looking to any end beyond it; and hold, that the mind is not in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner … In Utilitarianism Mill argues that virtue not only has instrumental value, but is constitutive of the good life.

Henry Sidgwick Henry Sidgwick's — The Methods of Ethics is one of the most well known works in utilitarian moral philosophy, and deservedly so. He writes: Thus, the Utilitarian conclusion, carefully stated, would seem to be this; that the opinion that secrecy may render an action right which would not otherwise be so should itself be kept comparatively secret; and similarly it seems expedient that the doctrine that esoteric morality is expedient should itself be kept esoteric.

Or, if this concealment be difficult to maintain, it may be desirable that Common Sense should repudiate the doctrines which it is expedient to confine to an enlightened few. And thus a Utilitarian may reasonably desire, on Utilitarian principles, that some of his conclusions should be rejected by mankind generally; or even that the vulgar should keep aloof from his system as a whole, in so far as the inevitable indefiniteness and complexity of its calculations render it likely to lead to bad results in their hands.

He raised the issue in the context of population growth and increasing utility levels by increasing numbers of people or sentient beings: Assuming, then, that the average happiness of human beings is a positive quantity, it seems clear that, supposing the average happiness enjoyed remains undiminished, Utilitarianism directs us to make the number enjoying it as great as possible.

But if we foresee as possible that an increase in numbers will be accompanied by a decrease in average happiness or vice versa , a point arises which has not only never been formally noticed, but which seems to have been substantially overlooked by many Utilitarians. For if we take Utilitarianism to prescribe, as the ultimate end of action, happiness on the whole, and not any individual's happiness, unless considered as an element of the whole, it would follow that, if the additional population enjoy on the whole positive happiness, we ought to weigh the amount of happiness gained by the extra number against the amount lost by the remainder.

Ideal Utilitarianism G. Conclusion Since the early 20th Century utilitarianism has undergone a variety of refinements.

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Clarendon Press, Cumberland, Richard, Gay, John, Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature , edited by L. Selby-Bigge, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Hutcheson, Francis, Mill, John Stuart, A System of Logic , London: John W. On Liberty , London: Utilitarianism , Roger Crisp ed. Moore, G. Principia Ethica , Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, Price, Richard, [PE].

Cadell in the Strand, Raphael, D. British Moralists , in two volumes, London: Oxford, Clarendon Press. Secondary Literature Crisp, Roger, Mill on Utilitarianism. Darwall, Stephen, Penn State University Press. Donner, Wendy, The Liberal Self: Cornell University Press.

Account Options

Miller, and David Weinstein eds. Oxford University Press. Driver, Julia, In his moral deliberation the agent can appeal to secondary principles, such as the prohibition of homicide, as an approximate solution for the estimated problem. The major one rests on the distinction between total and average utility. While harming a puppy and harming a person are both bad, however, most people had the view that harming the person was worse.

But as we have seen, this is not his view.

West, Henry R. Here he leans on a questionable analogy: Further, the basic structures of the theories are the same for more on this see Donner But such an objection presumes that those who do not have the desire to change themselves are missing something namely, the desire to change , and that, because of this lack, they are less free.