Arthur Miller, an Enemy of the People

Topics: Ethics, Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill Pages: 3 (869 words) Published: August 10, 2010
Happiness or Duty?
Arthur Miller’s, An Enemy of the People, depicts an intriguing playwright in which the differences of opinions between two brothers leads to a town revolution and the expulsion of one brother from the community. One brother, Dr. Stockmann, believed the contamination of the water in the town’s health spa was sufficient reasoning to be shut down. The other brother, Peter Stockmann, took an opposing stance believing that the health spa was the towns only means to economic salvation, and that closing the spa would detrimentally affect the entire population of the town. The town stood behind Peter, and the town kept the spa and maintained its financial prosperity, while Dr. Stockmann was shunned and left feeling that the town he loved had chosen the wrong priorities and was not fulfilling the moral duty to preserve life. As Peter is the protagonist in this story, the question to whether his actions were moral or immoral must be raised. The stance that this essay will take in answering this question is the Utilitarian standpoint described by John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism must be defined if to be applied to this question. Before Mill, Utilitarianism promoted the idea of utility, or the promotion of pleasure over pain. Pleasure is then described as a happiness that all people wish to achieve. John Stuart Mill goes further to contribute that “some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others,” therefore, “the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone (Mill 162).” Mill also argues that the consequences are more important than the intentions behind actions. Therefore, if the consequences are good then the motivations don’t matter. Complementing the principle of utility, the greatest good for the greatest number, Mill’s definition of happiness would justify the morality of Peter Stockmann’s actions towards his brother.

Peter Stockmann strongly felt that closing the health spa would...

Cited: Ibsen, Henrik, and Arthur Miller. Arthur Miller 's Adaptation of An Enemy of the People. New York: Penguin, 1977. Print.
Mill, John S. "From Utilitarianism." Ethics across Cultures: an Introductory Text with Readings. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005. 162-65. Print.
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