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John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Illustrations of Utilitarian
Utilitarian approach is consequentialist
(teleological) because what matters for
moral evaluation are only the
consequences of an action.
The Principle of Utility
Universal moral principle that plays the
role of foundation of moral judgments.
The Principle of Utility or the greatest
happiness principle holds that actions
are right in proportion as they tend to
promote happiness; wrong as they tend
to produce the reverse of happiness.
Official Formulation of the
Three claims are central to classical
1. Actions are to be judged right or wrong solely
by virtue of their consequences; nothing else
2. In assessing consequences, the only thing
that matters is the amount of happiness or
unhappiness that is created; everything else
is irrelevant.
3. Each persons happiness counts the same.
What is Happiness?
By happiness, Mill means pleasure and the
absence of pain; by unhappiness pain and
privation of pleasure.
The Theory: Pleasure and freedom from pain
are the only things desirable as ends; and all
desirable things are desirable either for
pleasure inherent in themselves or as means
to the promotion of pleasure and the
prevention of pain.
A prima facie objection:a
philosophy fit for a swine?
Does the theory imply that whats good
for a swine is good for a human being?
No, according to Mill because humans
have faculties more elevated than the
animal appetites and, when once made
conscious of them, do not regard
anything as happiness which does not
include their gratification.
Hierarchy of Pleasures
For example mental pleasures are
superior to bodily pleasures because
they are more permanent, safer,
uncostly, etc.
Qualities of Pleasures
Of two pleasures, if there be one to
which all or almost all who have
experience of both give a decided
preference, irrespective of any feeling of
moral obligation to prefer it, that is the
more desirable pleasure.
If one of the two is, by those who are
competently acquainted with both, placed so
far above the other that they prefer it, even
though knowing it to be attended with a
greater amount of discontent, and would not
resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure
which their nature is capable of, we are
justified in ascribing to the preferred
enjoyment a superiority in quality so far
outweighing quantity as to render it, in
comparison, of small account.
Is Pleasure the Only thing that Matters?
Experience machine
Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any
experience you desired. Super- duper neurophysiologists could stimulate your
brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making
a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a
tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine
for life, preprogramming your lifes experiences? If you are worried about
missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business
enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick
and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences,
selecting your lifes experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years
have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select
the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you wont
know that youre there; youll think its all actually happening. Others can also
plug in to have the experiences they want, so theres no need to stay
unplugged to serve them. ( Ignore problems such as who will service the
machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us,
other than how our lives feel from the inside?
Suppose there were a legal drug that reduced
irritability, increased productivity, and made
people happy in their work without producing
any negative side effects such as addiction or
dependence. Would it be morally permissible
for an employer to require employees to take
it? Would it be morally permissible for an
employer to put it in the companys water
supply? Does your answer support or
undermine utilitarianism?
According to Utilitarianism an action is
morally good iff it maximizes happiness
for everybody concerned with its
Actions and Motives
What motivates an action is irrelevant
for moral evaluation of that action. The
only thing that matters for its evaluation
are the consequences of such action.
Secondary principles
Now first principle tests generalizations that
we come up with on the basis of experience.
Eg. Killing is wrong is a general rule that gets
tested by a universal principle that all action
that are good maximize happiness for the
greatest number.
A particular act of killing does not get tested
by the universal principle, but rather by the
general rule.
Analogy: constitution and laws.
Exceptions to moral rules?
Suppose a society is threatened with social
turbulences after its citizens lost confidence
that the police/justice system is efficient. To
secure social peace, suppose the judge
sentences an innocent person. Punishing
innocent people is surely wrong, but maybe in
this case the judge can make an exception
because punishing this guy would have better
consequences than letting him go.
Act Utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
Suppose there is a conflict in what
different rules tell us.
How does one go about deciding what
to do?
This suggests that rules must allow for
exceptions. But if they do allow for
exceptions then why not punish the