Utilitarianism and Aristotelian Ethics

Topics: Nicomachean Ethics, Virtue, Ethics Pages: 5 (1841 words) Published: May 8, 2008
Utilitarianism and Aristotelian Ethics
John Stuart Mill and Aristotle are two of the most notable philosophers in history to date. Between Mill’s Utilitarianism and Aristotle’s virtue ethics you can see a large portion our cultures ethics today. Their philosophies are apparent in contemporary everyday life. Aristotle has written several pieces on virtue and friendship. The two most notable works being the Magna Moralia and the Eudemian Ethics. However, his Nicomachean Ethics were by far the most notable thing written from Aristotle’s teachings. His Nicomachean Ethics are made up of ten books, which are a combination of Aristotle’s lecture notes and his students’ notes from the Lyceum. Mill has written a number of works also, although they tend to not be as recognizable to the common people because they are philosophical economy based. Additionally, I must define the term “self” as I intend it. When I say “self” I mean a fully autonomous human being. In short, the content of this paper will be examining the notion of the “self,” both as it relates to itself and as it relates to others.

In order to determine what happiness is in term of the “self, ” first take a look at some of Mill’s utilitarian ideas. Mill’s define Utilitarianism as “… the creed which accepts as the foundations of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” From the utilitarian perspective pleasure and pain are absolutely essential in finding out one’s happiness. They way which Mill’s presents this highly simplistic definition of the complicated utilitarianism, brings up only a number of questions. There is something to this basic definition, but what? Do all pleasures lead to happiness? Are some pleasures better than others? Does pain really matter? As far as utilitarians are concerned, pleasure is the only intrinsically good thing. However, this brings up another important question: What is pleasure? To be very simple, it is the absence of pain, but there are so many things that can lead to pleasure. For some money or financial security is pleasure, others find sitting at home watching television or playing a board game with their family to be pleasurable, and there are even some other people that find doing charitable or good deeds as pleasure. Mill would argue that despite these both being pleasure, they are not the same; while there are others such as Jeremy Benthem, who would say Mill is wrong. Benthem would say that pleasures are all the same except for when they differ in duration or intensity. These two obviously see a difference in the value of pleasure. Consequently, if there’s a dispute to what pleasure is, then there is a dispute with what happiness is. Pleasure and pain are a part of happiness regardless of their definitions from different sources. Mill talks about the differences of the two; though, his ideas of “quality in pleasures” seem to lean to being part of the equation. He says, “It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others.” So this raises the question what kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others? Maybe Mill means that the pleasure of “doing good” is more valuable than the pleasure of wealth. Does this then suggest that there is something more substantial than physical or material pleasure? If there is, then we can say that acting morally or acting for the benefit of others (Utility principle) brings a better type of pleasure to the individual. We can also say that it brings a more valuable pleasure to the individual if he or she acts in the best interest of others, but what if acting for others brings about pain? If...

Cited: 1. Aristotle. "Virtue Ethics." Moral Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, 1998. 249-259.
2. Glassen, P. "A Fallacy in Aristotle 's Argument About the Good." The Philosophical Quarterly 7 (1957): 320. 27 Apr. 2008 .
3. Kraut, Richard. "Aristotle 's Ethics." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 July 2007. Stanford University. 27 Apr. 2008 .
4. Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism." Moral Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, 1998.
5. Mulgan, R.G., Aristotle’s Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p.14
6. O 'Leary, Scott. "Benthem Reading." Email to the author. Reread -26 Apr. 2008.
7. O 'Leary, Scott. Lecture. Class Notes. Fordham University, Bronx, NY.
8. Thunder, David. "Friendship in Aristotle 's Nicomachean Ethics." 1996. Notre Dame University. 27 Apr. 2008 http://www.nd.edu/~dthunder/Articles/Article4.html
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