Utilitarianism is a modern form of the Hedonistic ethical theory which teaches that the end of human conduct is happiness, and that consequently the discriminating norm which distinguishes conduct into right and wrong is pleasure and pain. In the words of one of its most distinguished advocates, John Stuart Mill. Although the term Utilitarianism did not come into vogue until it had been adopted by Bentham, and until the essential tenets of the system had already been advocated by many English philosophers, it may be said that, with the important exception of Helvetius De l'esprit, from whom Bentham seems to have borrowed, all the champions of this system have been English.
The harm principle and the greatest happiness principle: the missing link. In this article I present a possible solution for the classic problem of the apparent incompatibility between Mill's Greatest Happiness Principle and his Principle of Liberty arguing that in the other-regarding sphere the judgments of experience and knowledge accumulated through history have moral and legal force, whilst in the self-regarding sphere the judgments of the experienced people only have prudential value and the reason for this is the idea according to which each of us is a better judge than anyone else to decide what causes us pain and which kind of pleasure we prefer the so-called epistemological argument. Considering that the Greatest Happiness Principle is nothing but the aggregate of each person's happiness, given the epistemological claim we conclude that, by leaving people free even to cause harm to themselves, we still would be maximizing happiness, so both principles the Greatest Happiness Principle and the Principle of Liberty could be compatible.
Finally, we turn to John Stuart Mill. Here Mill defends the idea of utilitarianism, which says that we should always make social and political decisions with the goal of maximizing human happiness. What does Mill mean by happiness?
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that advocates actions that promote overall happiness or pleasure and rejects actions that cause unhappiness or harm. A utilitarian philosophy, when directed to making social, economic, or political decisions, aims for the betterment of society. The philosophy is associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Milltwo towering British philosophers, and political thinkers.
I find Mill's arguments mostly convincing, and his language quite entertaining. His grammar and spelling are very different from most modern writing, but I did not find it terribly difficult to comprehend. Account Options Sign in.
Chapter 2. What Utilitarianism Is A PASSING remark is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder of supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure. An apology is due to the philosophical opponents of Utilitarianism, for even the momentary appearance of confounding them with any one capable of so absurd a misconception; which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the contrary accusation, of referring everything to pleasure, and that too in its grossest form, is another of the common charges against Utilitarianism: and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer, the same sort of persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the theory "as impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word pleasure, and as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure precedes the word utility.
The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end. What ought to be required of this doctrine -- what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine should fulfil - to make good its claim to be believed? The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people actually see it.
If it is true that our pursuit of happiness exerts a tremendous influence on our actions, is it also true that happiness should be the standard by which we judge our actions to be right or wrong? The 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for a view of morality that ran along these lines. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.
Utilitarianism Garth Kemerling's superb piece on Mill and Bentham. Utilitarianism Focused article from The Catholic Encyclopedia. Video: Utilitarianism Professor Lawrence Hinman lectures on the ethics of utilitarianism.
But though in science the particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary might be expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or legislation. All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the means, one would think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of having already ascertained it.