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Mill1

Begin by introducing background of Mill, education, etc.

We have thus far looked at several attempts to ground morality, i.e. determine the
foundation for moral claims.

We looked at Pojman’s attempt to ground them in human nature,


Quinn’s attempt to ground them in divine command
Ayer’s attempt to say that there is no need to ground them, as they are not statements that
have truth value.

Now we shift into the more classical texts. Our next section is titled “Classical theories
Part 1: Consequentialist and Deontological Ethics.”

Consequentialism is the thesis that an action is right to the extent that it RESULTS in
goodness.

Notice that the emphasis is on results, as opposed to from what motive the action
proceeded.

In Mill we find a defense of Hedonism to ground claims about the value of moral actions.

Hedonism: the thesis that the good (or happiness) is pleasure and the absence of pain.

The major operative principle in Utilitarianism for measuring the moral worth of an
action is the “Greatest happiness principle.”

GHP: “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they
tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (299)

Now, you might have noticed that Mill defines happiness according to his basic
hedonism:
“By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the
privation of pleasure.”

Further, he goes on to note that “pleasure and the freedom from pain are the only things
desirable as ends; and that all desirable things are desirable either for pleasure inherent in
themselves or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.”

Does anyone wish to comment on this point?

Now, immediately Mill anticipates an objection to his theory based on his definition of
happiness, and his “GHP” as providing the foundation for morality.
(Read middle paragraph on p. 299)
This is a classical objection against Utilitarianism. It was raised against the Epicurean
hedonists, and against none other than Mill’s own teacher’s (Jeremy Bentham) form of
Utilitarianism.

It runs like this:

The Swine Objection


1. GHP says actions are right if they result in more pleasure than alternatives.
2. “Pig-like” activities produce more pleasure than the alternatives.
3. Thus, GHP requires us to act like pigs.
4. Morality requires self-sacrifice and nobility, not pig-like behavior.
5. Thus, GHP cannot be the supreme principle of morality.

Mill has several things to say in response to this argument.

His first reply is to point out a response given by his predecessors.


(Read bottom of 299 “It must be admitted…proved their case”)
This first reply pointed out:
R1 We have capacities that pig’s don’t have
Then, from this the reply points out that
Distinctively human activities produce a greater QUANTITY of pleasure for the
agent than swine-like activities do.

But Mill wants to present another type of reply to the swine objection.
(Read remaining part of paragraph on 300 “but they might have taken the other…on
quantity alone.)
This is R2 The “higher pleasures reply”
It seeks to make a qualitative distinction between different kinds of pleasures. It states:
Distinctively human activities produces a higher quality of pleasure for the agent
than do swine-like activities.

To defend this claim, he points out that a being of higher faculties requires more to make
him happy than does an inferior kind of being.

He says, take a being who is competently acquainted with both the pleasure of the pig
and the pleasure of the geometer and he will have a marked preference to the manner of
existence which employs the higher faculties.

In Short, “It is better to be a human being satisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be
Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

This is one of Mill’s most famous lines.

Now, suppose that one were to point out to Mill that we do find people who choose to
live according to the pleasures of the pig. Would Mill consider such an example, if we
could find it, to be sufficient to falsify his claim that some pleasures are higher than
others?

Let’s see what he says:


Read full paragraph on 301: “It may be…enjoying.”
Discuss this claim and the seriousness of it.

R3 The standard is the “greatest amount of happiness altogether” (302) NOT the
agent’s own personal happiness.
Distinctively human activities produces more pleasure OVERALL than swine-like
activities do.
On 302 Mill is distinguishing his form of hedonism from Ethical hedonistic Egoism.
Ethical Egoistic Hedonism: The good is my own personal pleasure.
Contrasted with
Social Hedonistic Consequentialism: An action is right to the extent that it results in more
pleasure and less pain for all concerned (than other alternatives)

Now, Recapitulate: We’ve seen the swine objection and three attempts at answering it by
Mill.
Is it sufficiently done away with?

We noted than while Utilitarians like Bentham emphasized quantity of pleasure in his
cruder form of Utilitarianism, in R2 we saw Mill try to emphasize a qualitative
distinction between them, some being “higher” than others.
But even if the distinction holds, might we not still have something of a problem when
trying to distinguish right action according to the principle of utility.
Recall, the principle of utility tells us to act so as to procure the greatest amount of
pleasure for the greatest number.
But, what are we to do when one act yields a lot of a lower kind of pleasure while another
yields just a smidge of a higher pleasure? How then do we determine which is the right
act? How does our pleasure calculus work out in this situation?

Further, Consider this: What if swine-like behavior could be shown to result in the most,
best overall pleasure…Then what? …
IT IS RIGHT!

Potential test question:

What is the “swine-objection” against Utilitarianism? How does this objection arise
against Utilitarianism? What are Mill’s three responses to this objection? What additional
objections might be still put to Mill even after his three responses are considered?