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John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism
Transcript of John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism
Mill's Influences and Background
The rightness of an act cannot be divorced from its consequences.
The rightness of an act must consider whether it adds to or diminishes human happiness.
Right = Maximizing human happiness
Done through social reform, laws and institutions
Is pain or pleasure greater or lesser according to:
Bentham's goal was to rescue morality from fickleness, sentiment & personal preference, and ground morality in rationality.
Any problems with this?
Along with Bentham and others, worked for political economic, and social reform.
What's the utility (usefulness) of a law, custom or institution?
It is right to produce human happiness
The right means will produce maximal human happiness
He got the first reform bill passed along with early factory acts that are reflected in contemporary labor laws.
Latin, Greek, French, history, philosophy, political economy, literature and poetry
John tutored his younger brothers and sisters
Each was examined rigorously and regularly by their unforgiving father
“I … grew up in the absence of love and in the presence of fear” (J.S. Mill 1969, 33).
Kant v. Mill
On the Scientific nature of Morality:
On First Principles:
Morality must be investigated with scientific rigor.
Morality cannot be invesitgated scientifically, like math can, because we can accept the truth of math (e.g. algebra) even if we don't understand the concept.
You can and should get to them in the case of morality.
You can get to them in the case of math and physical science, but not morality.
On the basis of Morality itself:
First principles that can be universalized. (E.g. The categorical imperative, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." FMM p. 38)
Outcomes of action. "...the end of human action , is necessarily also the standard of morality, which may accordingly be defined "the rules and precepts for human conduct"... U p. 12
We can only make ourselves worthy to be happy by getting a good will, we cannot guarantee happiness.
We may not be able to guarantee happiness for everyone, but we can increase pleasure and reduce pain.
Chapter II: What Utilitarianism Is
How does Mill defend against, what he calls, common misconceptions about Utilitarianism?
1. Undignified to ground morality in pleasure
2. Happiness is not a rational end of life because it is unattainable, undeserved, and unnecessary
3. Utilitarianism's standards are too high
4. Utility is cold and unsympathetic
Some important definitions (p. 7):
1. Utility: greatest happiness principle; actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, and wrong as the tend to produce the opposite of happiness.
2. Happiness: Pleasure and the absence of pain (Unhappiness: pain and the privation of pleasure).
Reply to Objection 1 (Undignified):
A. Humans are capable of higher pleasures than animals (p. 8)
i. higher quality not just quantity (p. 8)
a. ex. of experienced, uncoerced critic (pp. 8-9,11)
b. Better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig! (p. 10)
ii. Human dignity suggest that humans can postpone pleasures (p. 9-10)
iii. Nobleness of character benefits others (p. 11)
Reply to Objection 2 (happiness is unattainable, undeserved, unnecessary)
B. Even if happiness is unattainalbe we can still minimize pain.
i. The happy life has two
ii. selfishness prevents happiness
a. education, in the one who wants to expand the mind, makes for happiness.
b. everyone deserves education
c. human evils can be removed (e.g. poverty, disease, circumstances)
iii. people can and do make sacrifices for the common good
a. Self-sacrifice (and self-interest) is not incompatible with utility
b. Interests of Christianity should align with the interests of all (thus, U. is compatible with Christianity)
Reply to Objection 4 (Cold and unsympathetic):
D. Confusion of person with conduct.
i. virtue is not the only desirable thing
ii. good people do bad sometimes,
despite good intentions
iii. God desires human happiness
iv. Utility is not the same thing as cunning
v. utility can weigh consequences, not just duties
vi. humans learn from the past
vii. Utilitarianism knows what it wants and has a plan to get there.
Chapter III: Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility
What criteria does a moral theory require to be legitimate (p. 27)?
How do ordinary people reason about morality, according to Mill (p.27)?
What did they miss?
promotion of general happiness
development of moral character
feeling of unity with fellow creatures
What are sanctions?
Sources of obligation
Moral feelings and motivations (pp. 31-33)
moral feeling are learned (social constructs)
moral feelings need cultivation
humans are motivated by a desire for social unity
humans will continue to progress
social feelings are as natural as physical feelings
Reply to Objection 3 (Too difficult):
C. Confusion of rule and motivation
i. Motivation is irrelevant, the act (intention) is important
ii. Most are called to attend to the happiness of few.
All humans seek to attain pleasure and to avoid pain
The pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain can be regarded as principles of right and wrong.
Pleasure and pain can motivate people to create a society that pursues human happiness.
To be able to create this society:
1. Need to be able to assess the quantity of pleasure and pain for any given action.
2. Need to predict the net amount of pleasure and pain for society.
What are Mill's main objections to Kant?
"Although the non-existence of an acknowledged first principle has made ethics not so much a guide as a consecration of men's actual sentiments, still, as men's sentiments, both of favour and of aversion, are greatly influenced by what they suppose to be the effects of things upon their happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham latterly called it, the greatest happiness principle, has had a large share in forming the moral doctrines even of those who most scornfully reject its authority. Nor is there any school of thought which refuses to admit that the influence of actions on happiness is a most material and even predominant consideration in many of the details of morals, however unwilling to acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might go much further, and say that to all those a priori moralists who deem it necessary to argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable. It is not my present purpose to criticise these thinkers; but I cannot help referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of Ethics, by Kant. This remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the treatise in question, lay down a universal first principle as the origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this: "So act, that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings." But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.
Is it practical?
Can we predict consequences well enough?
What happens to a person's free action here?
What sanctions can Utilitarianism claim?
In groups of about 4 look at pages 28-29. List the sanctions that Mill claims give Utilitarianism its force. Hint: there are two types:
Chapter 1: Utilitarianism
"All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action [...] must take their whole characer and color from the end to which they are subservient." p. 2
when we act we should know what we want the outcome to be first
we can only judge right and wrong according to how things turned out, not before
: end, aim, goal, ultimate purpose, that for which one acts