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A summary of utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill

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  1. 1. Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill
  2. 2. Introduction • Little progress has been made regarding morality in the course of human existence Conditions are the same now as they were back then despite our ‘advancement’ • At best, our moral faculty gives us only the general principles of morality Is not a sense of knowing, but rather of reason (Ethics, a philosophy subfield) Most major schools of Ethics agree that morality is a priori, not a posteriori Cannot be deduced from personal experience • Ethics is more of a statement of Ethics, rather than a guide to correct ethics Created based on what brings us happiness; the principle of utility, ‘the greatest happiness principle,’ had a huge influence on the development of Ethics • Claims that most major schools of thought are deep-rooted in what makes us happy
  3. 3. What is Utilitarianism • Many people claim utilitarianism is simply about limitless pleasure (Unrestricted Hedonism), or that it is limiting of pleasure Is rather about “pleasure itself together with freedom from pain; and instead of opposing the useful to the agreeable or the ornamental they have always declared that ‘useful’ includes these among other things.” • Basis of morals is utility, where it is right if it promotes happiness, and wrong if it takes away happiness • Believes life has no higher aim than the collection of pleasure and avoidance of pain for the greater good Qualitative pleasure is important, and rather than pure hedonism, utilitarianism (Which is similar) looks towards the greatest amount of pleasure for society as a whole
  4. 4. Higher and Lower Pleasures • Humans have higher faculties than animals and thus require greater, more complex pleasures to be satisfied • Pleasures of the imagination, feelings, intellect, and moral sentiments are greater for humans than sensations Permanent, safer, less costly • Quantity and Quality are both needed for evaluating pleasures • It is better to be a wise man dissatisfied than a fool satisfied • People have a tendency to choose the easier good over the more valuable good
  5. 5. Happiness as an Aim • Even if true happiness is unattainable, utilitarianism is useful It is not only about getting pleasure, but avoiding pain If true happiness isn’t possible, there is more need for the second point • Happiness is not a constant state of unending bliss, but rather a fleeting feeling Philosophers define happiness as an active life involving pains, some moments of morality, various pleasures, and not expecting more from life than can be provided Happiness is NOT the aim In order to be satisfactory, a life must have excitement and tranquility Excitement can tolerate pain, tranquility needs little pleasure A healthy life should have tranquility and excitement in cycles, one following the other
  6. 6. Happiness as an Aim • Next to selfishness, the thing that makes life most unsatisfactory is lack of mental cultivation This cultivation feeds into interests • A life will be considered enviable without bad laws restraining him and with freedom from the evils of life such as poverty He believes these ills can be conquered by humanity (Which I disagree with) • People who sacrifice themselves for the greater good Don’t do it for happiness, but rather for virtue, which is greater than happiness
  7. 7. Self-Sacrifice • The highest virtue is sacrificing your happiness for others • Paradoxically, the best way to achieve happiness is going without it, because it allows the consciousness to rise above being subdued to fate Develop sources of satisfaction available to him • Golden rule of utilitarianism morality: do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself • Utilitarianism is more concerned with happiness of the whole than of the individual
  8. 8. Standard of Morality • Motive has nothing to do with the morality of an action Does have to do with worth of the agent • Concerned with acts of happiness for individuals, not all of society Doing small things for other people is more realistic than changing the laws of a nation
  9. 9. Why should we be Utilitarian • Same rewards as any other system of morals Avoiding displeasure and gaining pleasure Conscientiousness of mankind • Believes that with morality based on consciousness, inside the mind, it is easier to silence and ignore Utilitarianism has morality based on happiness and duty, outside the mind (Disagree with idea of duty personally however) Moral faculty, if not innate, is argued to be a natural part of our development However, can be cultivated in any direction Utilitarianism has no natural basis in our feelings
  10. 10. Proof of the Use of Utilitarianism • Questions about ends are questions about what is desirable Happiness is the only desirable end; all other desirables are desirable as a means to happiness • “The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible is that people hear it; and similarly with the other sources of our experience” --- False • Happiness is a means in and of itself, and isn’t just a means to an end but a part of it as well Things such as virtue can become a part of happiness Things such as money and power aren’t desired as an end, but as a means to an end By making it an end, the failure to obtain it brings pain A utilitarian can desire other means, but cannot desire anything besides happiness as an end (You cannot become dependent on money or fame for happiness, because these issues make good servants, bad masters
  11. 11. Proof of the Use of Utilitarianism • Will is different than desire Instead of willing something because we desire it, we desire it because we will it Evokes power of habit We can form a habit from something we no longer desire
  12. 12. Justice and Utility • Justice Believed to be dictated by some natural order or authority Says just because nature demands something doesn’t mean it’s always prudent to follow • What quality makes something unjust? Comes to the conclusion something is unjust if it is unequal, unless it is more convenient to be unequal Justice seems to be easily manipulated Etymology of justice comes from the word law Justice seemed to mean conformity to the law at first Justice now seems to be associated with what ought to be law
  13. 13. Justice and Utility • Acts of Perfect Obligation Acts that we are obligated to perform • Acts of imperfect Obligation Acts we are not obligated to perform, but ought to perform • The line between Morality and Justice, according to John Mill, is to be drawn between whether or not our rights as humans are involved • The idea of justice is rooted in a rule of conduct and proper punishments Must be someone to punish and someone who was harmed Justice must be rooted in harm to society, not to the individual Calls upon self-defense and resentment to establish punishment • Justice cannot be an independent utility, or one rooted in the mind independent of anything else, because it is so easily modified by perception
  14. 14. Is Justice a Fantasy • Based on rule of not harming another Taking into account people’s rights • Justice must be impartial to be just • Utility presupposes that everyone has an equal right for happiness • Justice, administered properly, can coexist with utilitarianism