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Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill

GHP actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness
Happiness pleasure and the absence of pain Unhappiness pain and the privation of pleasure

Greatest Happiness Principle


X is a means to Y if doing x tends to achieve Y Some things are desirable only as means


That is to say that if Y is good then X is good only insofar as it tends to achieve X.

X is an end if it is desirable for no other reason

Mills Claim: Pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends.

That is to say that X is not a means to anything more desirable; it is the goal.

Everything else that is desirable is so only because it is a means to pleasure or the freedom from pain.

Ends and Means

Argument against GRP

This doctrine is worthy only of swine because it makes pleasure the only end.

What is Mills response?

Argument and Response

Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites. Therefore, there are higher pursuits beyond those of mere sensation. Why are they higher?

But, the best reason is to recognize a difference in kind among pleasures. We need to factor quality as well as mere quantity.

First, they are more permanent. They are safer. They dont cost as much. And so on.

Higher and Lower Pleasures


Mill writes, 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. Continuing, he writes, If one of the two isplaced so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality (RTD 93).

Why believe in different kinds of pleasure?


Lets work this out

Some postpone higher pleasures to lower ones. Some begin with youthful enthusiasm for everything noble but sink into indolence and selfishness in later years.

BUT, such people are probably incapable of higher pleasures or wouldnt make the same decision if it was presented in the correct light.

Objections (and response)

The end of human action being happiness is also the standard of morality.
Morality: the rules and precepts for human conduct the observance of which a happy existence might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind and to the whole sentient creation.

The Ultimate Standard

Between ones own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires one to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. Consistent w/ the Golden Rule. Implications:

Laws and social arrangements should place the happiness of every individual in harmony with that of the whole. And, education and opinion should be used to establish an association between individual happiness and that of the whole (RTD 96).

Requirement of Impartiality

First point: first principles cannot be proved. (This is a logical point.) So, Mills proof that happiness is the only thing desirable.

But we can appeal to our senses.

An object is visible if people actually see it. A sound is audible if people actually hear it. And so on. Therefore, something is desirable if people actually desire it. Each person in fact desires his own happiness. Therefore, each persons happiness is desirable.


Why a part II? Because we need to get from each person desiring her own happiness to desiring the general happiness. Proof part II

Happiness is a good. Each persons happiness is a good to that person. Therefore, the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons.

Proof part. II

Why or Why Not?


Yes and no. Some things other than happiness are desired as ends in themselves.

But, they werent or neednt be always so desired. Some things start off as merely a means to happiness but come to be desired for themselves, e.g., virtue.

Sole Criterion?