John Stuart Mill

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NOTES – JOHN STUART MILL - UTILITARIANISM

1. John Stuart Mill – On Virtue and Happiness (1863)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 fulfill, 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. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it; and so of the other sources of our experience. 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 practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good, that each persons happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of morality. But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to be the sole criterion. To do that, it would seem, by the same rule, necessary to show; not only that people desire happiness, but those they never desire anything else. Now it is palpable that they do desire things which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness. They desire, for example, virtue, and the absence of vice, no less really than pleasure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue is not as universal, but it is as authentic a fact, as the desire of happiness. And hence the opponents of the utilitarian standard deem that they have aright to infer that there are other ends of human action besides happiness, and that happiness is not the standard of approbation and disapprobation. But 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 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, however they may believe (as they do) that actions and dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than virtue, yet this being granted, and it having been decided, from considerations of this description, what is virtuous, they not only place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as 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

• 2. conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner—as a thingdesirable in itself, even although, in the individual instance, it should not produce thoseother desirable consequences which it tends to produce, and on account of which it isheld to be virtue. This opinion is not, in the smallest degree, a departure from the Happiness principle. The ingredients of happiness are very various, and each of them isdesirable in itself, and not merely when considered as swelling an aggregate. Theprinciple of utility does not mean that any given pleasure, as music, for instance, or anygiven exemption from pain, as for example health, is to be looked upon as means to acollective something termed happiness, and to be desired on...
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