Utilitarianism is a theory in ethics regarding actions that maximize utility. Utilitarianism is human- centered and has a foundation of morality. One could say this theory holds to happiness as the principle, at least that is what John Mill proposes. Mills is well known for being not only a great philosopher of his time, but also an advocate for utilitarianism, in so much that Mills believed and even improved upon Bentham’s views. John Stuart Mill was the most famous and influential British philosopher of the nineteenth century (Clark, 2003).
Mill felt that the foundation of morals, “utility” or the greatest happiness principle, holds actions are right in a certain proportion because they tend to promote happiness; and wrong because they produce just the opposite of happiness. Happiness is pleasure, with the absence of pain; unhappiness, equals pain and the absence of pleasure. Mill felt that higher pleasures are more valuable than lower ones and also better (Peck, 2006). Pleasure to Mill’s differs in quality and quantity.
Mill felt that a person’s achievements and goals such as virtuous living should be recognized as a part of their happiness.
Mill believed that happiness is the only basis of morality, and that happiness is the only thing people truly desire. Mill’s take on justice was that it is based on utility and happiness and that rights only exist because they are necessary for a person’s happiness (Peck, 2006). When speaking of qualitative and quantitative utilitarianism there are differences within the two. They both measure the value of different levels of happiness (Ring, 2010). Qualitative utilitarianism entails that mental pleasures are different and also superior to physical pleasures. Quantitative utilitarianism entails that all types of happiness are equal or the same.
In quantitative utilitarianism what matters most is the quantity or amount of happiness, not what type (Ring, 2010). When speaking of Mills and his approach one would need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of what Mills proposes. The strengths of Mills approach to utilitarianism would be the fact of the only thing of substance or that matters is what happens in one’s life regardless of the intentions (Qizilbash, 2006). One weakness would be the proposal that one’s intentions do Running head: UTILITARIANISM ESSAY 1 not matter or hold any substantial repercussions.
One’s intentions can have a very negative affect on themselves but more important on other’s especially innocent by standers. One’s intentions could be of utmost importance to the good of the majority. Another strength of Mills approach is the fact that Mill considers emotions a form of great pleasure (Qizilbash, 2006). This point of the theory shows some impartiality. Mills also mentions general rules, which in turn would allow for the use of universal rules, and this is a strength for sure. In Mills approach one more weakness would be the ability for one to predict the outcome or consequences.
More weaknesses than strengths exist in Mills approach, for instance, to get the greatest good for the greatest number can sometimes make the simplest of actions become immoral- for instance buying something for oneself that is not necessarily needed but none the less something desired, but if that money spent could have been spent elsewhere and been more beneficial to a greater number of people then one is considered immoral or acting immoral. Another weakness in Mills approach is a competent person will always pick a higher pleasure over a lower one (Qizilbash, 2006) yet this is neither feasible nor true in all situations.
And the major weakness in Mills theory is the assumption that one should pursue something just because it is desirable and produces pleasure, this can have many negative consequences. Thought experiments have been used in every field from mathematics to philosophy. In this thought experiment four people play a question and answer game.
There is a score rewarded for each correct answer, and at the end of the game the two highest scoring people will get the chance to walk away with either a large amount of cash for themselves, half of the cash or unfortunately empty handed. In this particular game one will decide to share and divide the cash, or be greedy and try to walk away with all of the cash, but there is that chance of walking away with nothing.
Imagine one chooses share and the other chooses keep, then the one who chose keep gets it all, if both choose share then the cash will be divided evenly and both benefit, after Running head: UTILITARIANISM ESSAY 1 all they both worked equally towards this opportunity. But if both choose keep, they will both walk away empty handed with nothing.
In this thought experiment we will assume that both people chose share, considering this is the only sure way of walking away with at least half of the cash. This experiment would defend Mills version of utilitarianism on one hand because both people have done what is best for the greater good (Clark, 2003) so what works for the whole and is better for all involved is best.
But when considering Mills part of the version that speaks to one always choosing the higher pleasure over the lower one (Qizilbash, 2006) this scenario would critique- the higher pleasure would have been winning all of the cash for oneself, not having to share it and one knows that this is what each person desired, what would give them each much more pleasure, but instead they went for a lower zone of pleasure when deciding to at least walk away with some rather than no cash. In this experiment one can say it defends and critiques Mill’s because Mill’s was contradicting in his approach and views.
Mill was known to improve Bentham’s views, and not agree with them, but yet Mill leans towards Bentham’s views in a lot of his approach to utilitarianism. References Clark, K. J. , & Poortenga, A. (2003).
The story of ethics, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Peck, L. A. (2006). A “Fool Satisfied”? Journalists and Mill’s Principle of Utility. Running head: UTILITARIANISM ESSAY 1 Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 61(2), 205-213 Qizilbash, M. (2006). Capability, Happiness and Adaption in Sen and J. S. Mill. Utilitas, 18(1), 20-32. doi:10. 1017/SO953820805001809 Ring, L. , Gross, C. R. , & McColl, E. (2010, June). Putting the text back into context: toward increased use of mixed methods for quality of life research. Quality of Life Research. pp. 613-615. doi: 10. 1007/S11136-010-9647-z.
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