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Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

Midterm Paper

In this paper, we will analyze happiness in terms of two major philosophers, Mill and

Aristotle. John Stuart Mill was a man from England in the 1800s. He was an incredibly well-

educated man, stemming from childhood. Throughout his life, he lived on the elite side of the

spectrum. He was a depressed man, and that influences his values and his motivations for what

happiness is and how it can be attained. Reading through his philosophy, he was very much a

consequentialist. The phrase, the ends justify the means, is perfect for describing his line of

moral thinking. Aristotle was from much earlier in ancient Greece. He studied at Platos

Academy for a good portion of his life writing about many different subjects. He learned about

life from observation, and would be classified as a Naturalist. In metaphysics, this would be

the natural kinds and elements of what constructs our world. In his moral theory, he cares

about the ultimate end (controlling end), but is not a consequentialist. The journey to happiness

matters as much as attaining it. Both men are very systematic thinkers, but Aristotle presents a

more compelling argument for how to be happy. He emphasizes a more holistic view of people,

rather than just specific parts. Regardless, it is still important to study both so we can have a

greater understanding of happiness.

Mill, in Utilitarianism, starts off with defining a moral theory. He says that it is the

summum bonum and that is the foundation of morality. It is Latin for the the highest good.

When we are speaking of morality, we are seeking to find the highest good in ethics for our

theory. According to Mill, we have not made any progress in more than 2000 years, and there is

a deficiency of an ultimate standard.1 He quickly goes over that in his studies, people have

1
Mill, Utilitarianism, Pg 2.
Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

proposed that morality is either intuitive (a priori) or inductive (experienced). These

explanations help bring us towards his systematic Principle of Utility or the Greatest Happiness

Principle (GHP). He states, The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the

[GHP], holds that actions are right in the proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as

they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.2 He describes happiness as the pleasures of the

life, and the absence of pain. Mill wants to create a utilitarian standard; for that standard is not

the agents own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness, altogether.3 He wants

this to be a universal standard for society to gain the most happiness all together. With that,

pleasure is divided into higher and lower pleasures. Lower pleasures being that of food, drink,

sex, etc. Higher pleasures being that of intellect, study, etc. He says that the higher pleasures are

more desirable and valuable. These are the pleasures that will bring us greater happiness for

longer than the lower pleasures could. This supports his theory that, with these pleasures, we will

unite society under the fold to greater happiness.

Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, states that, Happinessis something final and self-

sufficient, and is the end of action.4 He speaks about good things being activities or achieving

products of what we do. The things we seek in life are good, but only in moderation. We seek

food, shelter, bravery, sex, etc. He writes, The moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it

is so, and that it is a mean between two vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and

that it is such because its character is to aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions,

has been sufficiently stated.5 With that, he has three goods that we much follow: goods of the

body, external goods and goods of the soul (virtues). He is concerned about the controlling end,

2
Mill, Utilitarianism, Pg 4.
3
Mill, Utilitarianism, Pg 7
4
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Pg 8-9.
5
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Pg 28
Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

which is the good sought for its own sake. This is what happiness is, not something you can

have, but it is an activity. It is a result of your habits (ethics). Aristotle writes, For one swallow

does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a

man blessed and happy. For us to attain happiness, we must always be in the habit of the good

activities. We learned this from upbringing and the formation of our habits. It is important

because we cannot be happy if we are not constantly in the habit of finding the three goods.

Now that we understand both theories of happiness, we can analyze each one. For

Utilitarianism, we have a few objections that he brings up and refutes, but they tend to be some

of the weaker rebuttals. One of the strongest objections is what we deemed, The coldness

objection. This simply states that people are more focused on the actions that give to the

greatest end, and seemingly forgetting character. If people are more focused on actions and ends,

do they continue to have individuality? It can be argued that this does not matter above the

greater good having happiness. Though, it does begin to devalue people. If we are focusing so

much on the whole, are the individuals of society at risk of being expendable for the sake of the

greater good? People want to be valued on an individual basis as much as on a grand scale. Some

people value one over the other, and Mill is sacrificing his for the whole of society. The

individual is just as important as the whole because the entire theory is based on the individual

doing the good for the sake of the whole. The whole cannot exist without the individual, and

therefore is a collection of good. We cannot rightfully discount the individual with a theory

based on subjective good.

Bernand Williams, A Critique of Utilitarianism, has a great argument that illustrates the

above arugument. He discusses two thought experiments, but I will only focus on one. The first

is where we meet someone named George who is just graduating with his Ph.D in Chemistry,
Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

and is offered a job at the company studying chemical and biological warfare (CBW). His family

is struggling and it is not easy for him to find a job, but he is opposed to working in CBW. The

gentleman who offered the position says, after all, Georges refusal is not going to make the job

go away; what is more, he happens to know that if George refuses the job, it will certainly go to a

contemporary of Georges who is not inhibited by any such scruples and is likely if appointed to

push along the research with greater zeal than George would.6 Using Utilitarianism, the obvious

answer would be to accept the position. He would be filling a position he qualifies for, and

inhibiting research for something he does not believe in. Williams continues, But many of us

would certainly wonder whether in (1), that could possibly be the right answer at all; and in (2),

even one who came to think that perhaps that was the answer, might wonder whether it was

obviously the answer.7 It is something that would be promoting the greatest happiness for his

family (which is the whole in this case). It is not about him, but he must think of everyone

elses happiness before his own. This has psychological effects on a person. Williams argues that

if George took the position, he would lose his integrity, and therefore, start to lose himself. He

would not be able to pursue any life-projects, including building of character, because it would

not pursue the happiness of the whole but for the individual. This is directly against what Mill

wrote in his essay for Utilitarianism.

Aristotle has his flaws too. He can be accused of creating universal virtues in order to be

happy. Ethnocentrism is strong in Aristotles writings. Being from a civilization from over two

thousand years ago, and one that does not value the same things that others did at the time or do

now, and making objective judgements is a very bold statement. He writes of all these

guidelines, and makes the objective statements of happiness. It cannot be applied to every

6
Williams, A Critique of Utilitarianism, Pg 98.
77
Williams, A Critique of Utiliatianism, Pg 99.
Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

culture, because different societies value different things. The Athenians did not value women,

and that means they are excluded from many of these writings. The disabled were not valued

either. In our civilization now, we do value these groups of people. It is hard to know how far to

take Aristotles Ethics in real life because we have to sift through what we can understand from

two thousand years ago in our daily lives. There are still some goods that still applied to today,

even though time separates us by millennia. One example that was not mentioned earlier for sake

of comparison was the value he places on friendship. He believed that people need friends, and

defined the different types of friendship. We have friendships of pleasure, utility and complete

ones. The former two are those of youth, and bad men. They are temporary friendships. The last

is for good people of similar virtue, and what you should seek from another kindred spirit. That

is something we could easily value today from Aristotle that he states is important to happiness.

Even with my objection to Aristotle, he did present the stronger case out of the two

theories. In Book X, he switches gears about happiness to say that there is a life of the

philosopher. He wanted to be that Philosopher King and write things that would be studied in

the future. He thinks that for some, happiness also includes thought and study for its own sake,

which is why we still talk about his model of ethics. It is important to understand that he wanted

to understand the complete life, and looked at all different aspects of life he observed in the

population. This is the distinction that Mill did not make. Mill overlooked a lot of details with his

overarching theory. His scope was small, and probably not representative of the general

population of his time. He wanted an objective theory, but ended up with a very subjective one.

He puts it on the individual for the fate of the whole, but does not fairly evaluate the individual.

This is what makes Aristotles view superior, and will allow us to continue discussing his works.
Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

After analyzing these two theories, we can conclude that Aristotle has a stronger theory

for happiness. Mill is not wrong when trying to think of society as a whole, but forgets important

parts of individuality. He is concerned only so far as pleasures go, and Aristotle is concerned

with habits. Overall, habits are what you carry into old age and last longer. Pleasures change

over time, and faster than habits. Both pieces are incredibly important, and will be continually

studied in ethics classes.


Leah Nez PHIL 1120 10/17/2017

Bibliography:

Aristotle. "Nicomachean Ethics." The Internet Classics Archive | Nicomachean Ethics by

Aristotle. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.

Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism." The Project Gutenberg EBook of Utilitarianism, by

John Stuart Mill. February 22, 2004. Accessed October 16, 2017.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11224/11224-h/11224-h.htm.

Smart, J. J. C., and Bernard Williams. Utilitarianism: for and against. New York:

Cambridge University Press, 2008.