Utilitarianism and Altruistic Acts

Topics: Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham Pages: 3 (1182 words) Published: October 20, 2010
John Stuart Mill’s account of Utilitarianism claims “that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill, 7). In addition, “the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness but that of all concerned” (17). Individuals are often confronted with a choice which benefits others but fails to contribute something in return. Before deciding how to act, one evaluates what is justifiable, but he/she may immediately refrain from the act if it is harmful to him/her. Yet, many find good acts those which enhance the utility of society, regardless of potential harm, diminished personal happiness, or renouncement of certain self-benefiting act. Often, acts which forfeit personal happiness for others are difficult to apprehend. A solider may jump on a triggered grenade in efforts to save the lives of the surrounding army, a citizen may forego indulging in luxury by donating to a charity, a heavy man stuck in the only exit of a cave maybe willing to explode via dynamite so a trapped group can escape, one may donate an organ despite facing health risks, or an individual may choose to spend a lifetime following societal rules. However, it is important to evaluate the type of happiness a benefactor gets in return, and by searching deep into Utilitarianism an individual can find reasons to why individuals commit charitable acts. Mill’s Utilitarianism supports and provides justification for self-sacrificing behavior and deems it morally justified; therefore, despite the fact acts of altruism often appear imbalanced (happiness obtained by the one acting does not appear to match the happiness provided to those in need), individuals continue to engage in them because pleasure and happiness are distinguishable, and a higher form of happiness exists which motivates individuals to sacrifice certain pleasures in order to obtain this higher form of...
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