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PHIL-P140 Mill's Utilitarianism Chapter 2 Notes

by: Kathryn Brinser

PHIL-P140 Mill's Utilitarianism Chapter 2 Notes PHIL-P 140

Marketplace > Indiana University > PHIL-P 140 > PHIL P140 Mill s Utilitarianism Chapter 2 Notes
Kathryn Brinser
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About this Document

Covers chapter 2 of Mill's Utilitarianism.
Introduction to Ethics
Daniel Linsenbardt
Class Notes
phil-p140, ethics, Mill, Utilitarianism
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This 2 page Class Notes was uploaded by Kathryn Brinser on Friday September 9, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to PHIL-P 140 at Indiana University taught by Daniel Linsenbardt in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 7 views.


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Date Created: 09/09/16
P140 John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism Chapter 2 Notes- What Utilitarianism Is 8-28-16  Objects to utility (usefulness) and pleasure being mutually exclusive/contradictory o Also rejects idea that utilitarians revolve everything around pleasure o Utility = pleasure and lack of pain  Utilitarianism (greatest happiness principle)- actions are right if they lead to maximum amount of pleasure and least pain (most happiness) for everyone, wrong if opposite o Anything desirable either brings pleasure itself or facilitates achieving pleasure and lack of pain  Hedonism- pleasure and pain dictate basis for right and wrong; strict utilitarianism o Misconception created by simplicity of theory leads to objections saying “life has…no higher end than pleasure…” and people only find valuable what animals do o Mill: objects, saying accusers instead liken people to simple beasts  If pleasure for humans and animals were identical, way of life for one would suffice for other  Seen as degrading because animals’ pleasures do not satisfy human desires; can experience higher pleasures  Almost every variation gives almost equal value to pleasures regarding physical sensation, intellect, emotions/imagination, morality o Mental pleasures usually superior due to resulting advantages in life over bodily o Some kinds more desirable/valuable than others o Quantity and quality matter  Given 2 pleasures, one more desirable if most people have preference of one over other after experiencing both and being unhindered by emotions/moral duties o Superior quality if preferred pleasure overrides any unhappiness produced as result of it and people would not trade for the other one, even given discontent o Must make decision without outside moral obligation, because with it, they would assume what they are trying to explain (utilitarianism, which is a moral obligation) o Assumes person choosing would pick what Mill considers higher pleasure over lower  People that do opposite either short-sighted or incompetent judges of pleasures  Ex. Person with college education will not choose to become ignorant  People that pick higher over lower often experience more displeasure in life  Matter of maintaining dignity o Misconception that happiness = contentment  Higher pleasures bring more discontent, but give better quality pleasure that makes discontent worth enduring  Better to have higher quality pleasures and be dissatisfied than to only have lower ones and be satisfied o Noble character produced by life of higher pleasure may dissatisfy individual having experiences, but benefits society as whole  Not all who oppose utilitarianism necessarily represent its ideals badly o Some say it has too high of expectations of people to act in contribution to society’s wellbeing o Mill: incorrect interpretation of moral rules, adding in issue of motive to rule of action  Ethics gives us obligations and limits; no ethical system requires that benevolence/duty to society must be motives behind doing morally right things  Motive has no relation to morality of actions, but does define worth of person acting  Motive- explanation for doing something; feeling that causes a plan of action  Intention- objective/goal of doing something  Utilitarian standard for goodness of an act is its resulting happiness for all people, not just person acting o We must be generous enough to not value our own happiness over that of other people o Does not mean motives should be to give everyone happiness- not concerned with motives of actions, only results/consequences o Most actions don't affect many people- must only consider effects on those involved o Only public figures must always consider collective good  “Misunderstandings” of Utilitarianism (Objections) o Accused of being secular ideology- basis is human happiness, not God’s will  Mill: depends on how we see will of God  Believes God wants happiness for all creatures, His truths fit utilitarianism  Need ethical system to figure out will of God in first place o Often mixed up with Expediency (convenience/practicality despite possible impropriety), considered immoral theory  “Expedient” refers to self-interest, immediate goals; Mill would consider harmful  Damaging society not expedient; acting against social interest morally wrong o Happiness unachievable, people can live without it  Mill: exaggeration; when happiness defined correctly, definitely attainable  Unhappy people tend to be selfish/uneducated  Most bad things can be eliminated through society being wise and committed to eliminating poverty/sickness o Virtuous people reject happiness  Mill: admits there have been such people (ie. martyrs), but says it was for a greater end- bringing happiness to others  Some make sacrifices so others won't have to, saving them from pain and therefore providing them happiness  Keeping an attitude of willingness to make sacrifice leads to greatest virtue and best chance of achieving happiness o Person is content with his/her life and choices  Does not mean sacrifice itself is good for any reason- only if it brings happiness o Cold/emotionless doctrine  Does not focus on moral character of individual at all  Mill: rightness/wrongness of actions should not be determined by kind of person doing them  All ethical standards judge actions without judging agent  Many use utilitarianism as exclusive system; do not appreciate other good things about people- valid criticism  Mistake to only have moral feelings and exclude artistic appreciation/empathy o Not usually enough time to consider general consequences of actions  Mill: uses counterexample that Christians cannot read Bible every time they act, but still use it as a standard  People have had all human history to learn good/bad consequences  People usually agree about utility of actions, easy to teach children  We don’t know everything about consequences, but do not need to manually analyze every action  Rational people have basic ideas of right/wrong o Too nice; underestimates how many immoral decisions people tend to make  Utilitarian will give himself exceptions to rules of doctrine; tempted to justify by saying a certain action increases happiness  Mill: not only utilitarians- all ethical systems have exceptions  Not practical to not have special cases where rules broken  Having a doctrine with exceptions better than nothing Works Cited 1Mill, John Stuart. “What Utilitarianism Is.” Utilitarianism and the 1868 Speech on Capital Punishment. Second Ed. Hackett Publishing Company, 2001. 7.


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