Bentham and Mills on Utilitarianism

Topics: Utilitarianism, Ethics, John Stuart Mill Pages: 5 (1882 words) Published: March 28, 2006
As an American society statues and laws are placed before us to set a standard of morality and justice. But what truly determines whether an action is moral or immoral? As I analyze the works of Jeremy Bentham, in his "Principle of Utility," Alongside John Stuart Mill, on "Utilitarianism," we will better understand what the foundations of morality are in accordance to their writings. Furthermore, through their standards of utility I will analyze the situation proposed as to whether cheating on your income taxes can be justified as morally right or wrong in the eyes of the utilitarian.

In his Work, Jeremy Bentham states Utilitarianism as "that principle which approves or disproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have augmented or diminished the happiness of the party whose interest is in question." Plainly stated, Bentham defines utilitarianism as the ethical rightness or wrongness of an action directly related to the utility of that action. Utility is more specifically defined as a measure of the goodness or badness of the consequences of an action. J.S Mill later expands Bentham's definition of the term by saying utility "holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness." Mill defines happiness as "the absence of pain." Mill further states that there are different levels of pleasures. He states that "some pleasures are of higher quality than others and thus more desirable." Mill states that, if all pleasures are equal and the only difference is in their quantities then human beings and lesser beings (such as a "pig" ) would receive gratification from the same sources of pleasure. Whereas Bentham's utilitarianism makes no distinction between different beings and assigns the same pleasure to all members of the community, Mill separates human beings and lesser beings, which have pleasure that is of different category and worth. Mill gives an example by saying, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." In comparing the two, one can see that Bentham and Mill agree that utility is measured by the result of happiness (or absence of pain) of an action.

The next firm foundation of utility, according to Bentham, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people who are affected by the performance of an action. He states, "The interest of the community (the sum of the interest of several members who compose it) is one of the most general expressions that can occur in the phraseology of morals." He supposed that social policies are properly assessed in light of their effect on the general well-being of the majority of the population that is involved. In a utilitarian philosophy the effects of an action is to be meticulously calculated for the greater good of the masses. Mill later describes the "perfection of utilitarian morality" with the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth. In this "rule" he alludes to the section in the Bible where Jesus claims that we should "do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself." In saying this he states that "laws and social arrangements" should place their happiness of every individual "as nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole." It can be said that maximum utility results when the following process is undertaken: 1) analyzing the majority (level of happiness experienced by people) after each action made. 2) Summate the levels of happiness experienced in each case. 3) And lastly, compare the results. The one that can be said to lead to the greater amount of total pleasure or happiness is the superior alternative.

Perhaps the difference between the two can be that Bentham believes in a precise calculation of the utility of each possible action in a given situation. This precise calculation is achieved through different...
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