Mill's Utilitarianism

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March 26, 2013
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In the beginning of Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill states that throughout history very little progress has been made towards developing a set of moral standards to judge what is morally right or wrong. Although a certain disagreement about such foundations can also be found in the most “certain” sciences, in those areas truths can still have meaning without understanding the principles underlying them. On the other hand, in philosophy, where all actions exist to proceed towards a particular end, statements unfounded upon a general principle have very little validity. Therefore Mill says that in order to know what morality dictates, it is necessary to know by what standard human actions should be judged. He rejects the idea of a moral instinct inherent in human mind, which supplies us with this ability to judge. Even if such a sense would exist, it wouldn’t show us whether something is right or wrong in a particular matter. Instead, Mill assumes that right and wrong are questions of experience and he tries to show that the principle of utility or “the greatest happiness principle” is the foundation of this distinction. In Chapter two, Mill tries to reply to some common misconceptions about utilitarianism. He claims that many people mistake utility as the rejection of pleasures, whereas in reality, it is pleasure itself, promoting happiness. He thus defines utilitarianism as the creed which “holds that actions are right in the proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. Accordingly pleasure and absence of pain are the only goals that are inherently good and desirable in themselves. Every other action or experience is only insofar good as it promotes pleasure. However, it is wrong to assume people should only do what makes them personally happy. Instead the standard of judging an act is the happiness of all people. Therefore people shouldn’t distinguish between their own...
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