Utilitarianism (book)

Utilitarianism (book)

John Stuart Mill's book "Utilitarianism" is a philosophical defense of utilitarianism in ethics. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in "Fraser's Magazine" in 1861; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863. It went through four editions during Mill's lifetime with minor additions and revisions.

Although Mill includes discussions of utilitarian ethical principles in other works such as "On Liberty" and "The Subjection of Women", "Utilitarianism" contains Mill's only major discussion of the fundamental grounds for utilitarian ethical theory.


The essay is divided into five chapters:

# General Remarks
# What Utilitarianism Is
# Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility
# Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible
# On the Connection Between Justice and Utility

In the first two chapters, Mill aims to precisely define what utilitarianism "claims" — in terms of the "general moral principles" that it uses to judge concrete actions, and in terms of the sort of "evidence" that is supposed to be given for those principles. In so doing, he hopes to do away with some common misunderstandings of utilitarianism, as well as defend it against philosophical criticisms, most notably Kant. In the first chapter, Mill distinguishes two broad schools of ethical theory: those whose principles are defended by appeals to "intuition" and those whose principles are defended by appeals to "experience"; and he identifies utilitarianism as one of the "empirical" theories of ethics. In the second chapter, he then formulates a single ethical principle, from which he says all utilitarian ethical principles are derived:

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, 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. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

Most importantly, it is not the agent’s own greatest happiness that matters, “but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.” (ch2) Utilitarianism therefore can only attain its goal of greater happiness by cultivating the nobleness of individuals so that all can benefit from the honor of others. In fact, notes Mill, Utilitarianism is actually a "standard of morality" which uses happiness of the greater number of people as its ultimate goal.

Knowledge and education are fundamental to Mill's concept of the Greater Happiness, and in his famous words, “it is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” (260) Mill touts the importance of being well brought up and knowledgeably curious about the world, and understanding higher pleasures such as art and music, than to be uneducated and complacent. One need not be personally satisfied with his or her life to be able to contribute to the "total sum happiness" of a society.

Mill goes on to discuss what is meant by "pleasure" and "pain" in his formulation of the Greatest Happiness Principle, to argue that it encompasses intellectual as well as sensual pleasures, and to offer a defense of intellectual pleasures as preferable not only in "degree", but also in "kind", to sensual pleasures. (Throughout "Utilitarianism", Mill mainly writes as if addressing opponents of utilitarianism, but here he is also trying to criticize and refine the understanding of the Greatest Happiness Principle offered by earlier utilitarians — Jeremy Bentham in particular.)

In the third chapter, Mill discusses questions concerning the "motivation" to follow utilitarian moral principles; Mill discusses ways in which both "external" and "internal" sanctions (that is, the incentives provided by others and the inner feelings of sympathy and duty) encourage people to act in such a way as to promote the general happiness.

The fourth chapter offers Mill's attempt at an inductive proof of the Greatest Happiness Principle, on the grounds that happiness and happiness "alone" is desired as an end in itself.

The fifth chapter concludes the essay with a discussion of problems concerning utilitarianism, and the concept of justice. Critics of utilitarianism often claim that judging actions solely in terms of their consequences is incompatible with a foundational and universally binding concept of justice; Mill sees this criticism as the strongest objection to utilitarianism, and sets out to argue (1) that a binding concept of justice can be explained in strictly utilitarian terms, and (2) that the problems created by the utilitarian explanation are difficult problems for "any" concept of justice whatsoever, whether utilitarian or not.

Finally, in order to be truly happy, Mill believes that we must focus our attention away from our own happiness and toward other objects and ends, such as doing good for others, and such high pleasures in life as art and music.

See also

*Criticism of utilitarianism

External links

* [http://www.archive.org/details/a592840000milluoft Mill, J.S. "Utilitarianism". Parker, Son, and Bourn: London, 1863] , a digitized copy from the Internet Archive.
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=nSUCAAAAQAAJ&dq=editions:OCLC38110333&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 Mill, J.S. "Utilitarianism", second edition. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green: London, 1864] , a digitized copy from Google Book Search.
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=ujgIAAAAQAAJ&dq=editions:OCLC38110333&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 Mill, J.S. "Utilitarianism", third edition. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer: London, 1867] , a digitized copy from Google Book Search.
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=aRERAAAAYAAJ&dq=intitle:Utilitarianism+date:1863-1873&lr=&as_brr=0&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 Mill, J.S. "Utilitarianism", fourth edition. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer: London, 1871] , a digitized copy from Google Book Search.
* [http://metalibri.incubadora.fapesp.br/portal/authors/Utilitarianism Utilitarianism] at MetaLibri (PDF eBook)
* [http://fair-use.org/john-stuart-mill/utilitarianism Utilitarianism (1871 edition, transcribed by the Fair Use Repository)]
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645u/ Utilitarianism (1863 edition, transcribed by the University of Adelaide Library)]
* [http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/m/milljs.htm#Utilitarianism Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism]

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