Utilitarianism and Happiness

Topics: Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill Pages: 3 (945 words) Published: November 13, 2005

In his book, J.S. Mill attempts to build on Jeremy Bentham's original idea of Utilitarianism. His definition of the moral theory is one that is grounded in Bentham's original work but also extends to include remarks to criticisms of Utilitarianism. Mill believes that, like Bentham, utility is what is valuable to society. Utility, according to Mill, is the promotion of pleasure or the absence of pain. He defines this as happiness, which is why he refers to utility as the Greatest Happiness Principle (Mill 55). Thus, pleasure (or painlessness) is what society finds valuable. Because society finds happiness valuable, it must attempt to maximize total happiness. Mill describes that the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain are the only ends desirable to society. Because of this, any event, decision, or experience is favored only because it is a source for happiness. This means that actions are good if they lead to more happiness and bad if they prevent it (Mill 55) . Mill further states that happiness or pleasure is stratified. There are different levels of pleasures. Some pleasures are of higher quality than other pleasures and thus more desirable than pleasures of lower quality. Mill defines a high quality pleasure as one that if people would choose that pleasure, even if it brought upon slight pains, over another pleasure. The adage "Ignorance is bliss" would be one with Mill would strongly disagree. He says that once people are mindful of these higher pleasures, they will desire actions that promote those types of pleasure (Mill 56-58). Mill also states that Utilitarianism is not promoting selfishness or self-indulgence. The happiness mentioned is not solely that of the individual, but primarily that of society as a whole. In fact, all actions should be based on what is better for society as a whole. Usually, however, most actions that an individual can take have a very small scope in its effect for the whole of society. But it...

Bibliography: Mill, J S. Utilitarianism. 1861. Ed. Roger Crisp. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2004.
Smart, J.J.C, and Bernard Williams. "The places of rules in act-utilitarianism."
Utilitarianism: For & Against. 1975. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2005. 42-56.
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