MILL

The principle of utility determines the rightness of acts (or of rules of action) by how they affect the total happiness in the world.

Pleasures of distinctively human faculties are also said to be superior in quality to pleasures of the sort we share with animals – as determined by those who’ve experienced (and are still capable of experiencing) both sorts of pleasure.” with happiness understood roughly as “pleasure and the absence of pain” (p. . unlike Bentham.Mill’s principle of utility “ [A]ctions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness. The principle is identified with Mill’s predecessor Bentham’s “Greatest Happiness Principle. differing only on quantitative measures like intensity and duration. the number of people made happy) and extending to all sentient beings. = a single principle combining theories of the right and the good (utilitarianism and hedonism) that are distinguished in 20th century philosophy Its simplest interpretation takes “tend” as referring to actual consequences of specific acts. but it will be modified later to apply to general rules or types of act. happiness isn’t just a mathematical sum of pleasures minus pains.” understood as referring to total happiness (vs. But for Mill. 55).

Live issues Mill addresses objections stemming from what he sees as misunderstandings of the principle of utility in ch. 5. Mill deals explicitly with the first set of objections toward the end of ch. and (relatedly) why we condemn injustice. sometimes even where a particular unjust act seems to promote the total good. Those that are most problematic for utilitarianism – in non-hedonistic versions still popular in philosophy and economics -. but there he seems to be applying the principle of utility to rules themselves rather than to specific acts. 2. . 2. treating rules as summaries of human experience in applying the principle of utility over time.concern whether breaking common moral rules is right in cases where it would seem to promote the total good. He addresses questions of justice in ch.

The aim isn’t ecstasy but just to minimize pain and achieve a comfortable mix of pleasures. 68). undercuts “principled” adherence to rules (pp. of utilitarianism: leaves no room for beauty.). popular misconception a “godless” doctrine (p. amusement (p. 54). is the standard of right action (vs. not just one’s own. Total happiness. 68ff. distinctively human. happiness an inappropriate aim (pp.). motive of the virtuous agent).Responses to misunderstandings of hedonism: pleasure an aim worthy of swine (pp. Established rules sum up the general tendencies of acts to promote utility. 55ff. 59ff. pleasures outweigh mere bodily pleasures shared with swine.): Rule-breaking is almost always forbidden because of harmful side-effects. Spells out what a good and wise God would want. . Higher. ornament. We should limit direct appeal to the principle of utility to cases where the rules conflict. so they serve as a better guide to decision-making at the time of action.

Twentieth-century objections to hedonism from objective good: We also care about whether our pleasurable experiences correspond to reality. Cf. cf. . to utilitarianism from justice: Utilitarianism allows for “interpersonal trade-offs.” or the sacrifice of some to the good of all. as indicated by our unwillingness to plug into a hypothetical “experience machine” (Nozick). in cases where it would recommend killing one innocent person to prevent the murder of several others (Williams). from moral emotion: Utilitarian calculations would alienate an agent from his moral sentiments e. also “the trolley case” of killing one person to save others. as indicated by both economic examples and punishment of one innocent person to prevent a riot that would kill many (“telishment”.g. Rawls).

i.Motivating utilitarian morality In ch. not just utilitarianism.e. But this needs to be widened out beyond one’s family and friends by education. social disapproval. Motivation depends on two kinds of “sanctions” (= punishments for wrong action). etc. conscience Human social feelings provide a natural basis for concern with the total happiness in the desire for unity with others. set up or modifiable by society. Mill replies that this is true of any moral system. but ultimately a matter of subjective feeling: external: legal punishment. . 3 Mill considers a further objection: that people won’t be motivated by the principle of utility unless they happen to care about promoting the total happiness (as very few people do). internal: feelings of self-reproach.

i.g. The move from hedonism to utilitarianism also depends on Mill’s assumption (see.) that the criterion of right action must be supplied by the end for which we act. which we can use as the basis for three-stage argument: 1. Happiness is desirable: established by the fact that we all desire it The general happiness is desirable: inference from parts to whole [?] Nothing other than happiness is desirable: anything else is originally desired only as means to it. . though certain aims such as virtue can come to be desired for their own sake. Mill says that “desirable” and “pleasant” are just different names for the same thought. But we have an analogue to sensation in desire. In the end. immediate sense experience. which amounts to something we view at the time as desirable [=good]. pp. 3. 4 Mill grants that a principle about ultimate ends is really no more capable of proof than are claims about the bases of empirical knowledge.Mill’s “proof” In ch. as parts of happiness for a particular individual (cf. 2. e. Mill’s analogy to money).e.. 84f.

Utility and justice (1) In ch. non-optimal.” i. we might think this amounts to a claim that the type of act that counts as wrong is expedient to punish. 5 Mill addresses the objection that our sense of justice doesn’t seem to be explained by the principle of utility. ] So some acts that fail to maximize the good may not really be wrong but just “inexpedient.e. where there are reasons against legal punishment. First he notes that an act is morally wrong (= a violation of moral obligation) only if it deserves punishment – at least by social disapproval or conscience. . rather than just telling people that it’s not the right thing to do. [In light of what Mill goes on to say about justice. So the principle of utility favors adopting a rule to punish that type of act.

. but as applied to general rules rather than acts.). However. Mill adds that the rules can be overridden in extreme circumstances (pp. to reflect concern for general utility. The upshot is that justice is explained by the principle of utility. only when our urge toward self-defense is extended by sympathy. 106f.Utility and justice (2) Not all wrong acts are unjust. the sentiment of justice. a violation of moral obligation. These more fully specified duties are known as “perfect” duties. though. but becomes a moral sentiment. the persons toward whom we have such duties are said to have rights. Whether a wrong act. The particularly strong sense of obligation associated with justice results from our natural retaliatory sentiments. counts as unjust depends on something further that justice adds to moral obligation: Certain general rules that are needed to protect individuals’ basic security give us duties (= obligations) toward specific persons.

not by their own consequences. would have the best consequences. but by whether they’re in accordance with rules that. 5 (in contrast to ch. also the trolley case. we should violate the rules (as Mill says when he allows for exceptions). rule-utilitarianism.Rule-utilitarianism? In “Two Concepts of Rules” Rawls briefly defends a version of utilitarianism that he thinks is in line with Mill’s ch. rules of a game). 2) and could handle cases like “telishment. However. then in a case where it’s clear that adhering to the rules would undermine it. Rather than merely summing up past experience with applying the principle of utility directly to acts. rules describe general practices to which the principle applies (cf. as this approach is called. is subject to the objection that it “collapses into” act-utilarianism: if we really care about the general happiness.) Acts should be judged.” (Cf. . if generally followed.

Anticipating Kant .