John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873): Utilitarianism
by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. The ultimate good (end or purpose) of human life is happiness, not simply of a single individual in isolation from others, but of all individuals together (greatest happiness of the greatest number of individuals -- Greatest Happiness Principle).

2. "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." What makes an act right or wrong is its consequences, how it affects individuals, whether it causes them pleasure or pain. "By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure."

3. Some pleasures, particularly pleasures of the mind (knowledge and imagination) and pleasures associated with virtue, are better than other pleasures, those associated with the "animal appetites." "It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others." [Epicurus understood that mental pleasures are better than bodily pleasures and that quality of pleasure is more important than quantity.] Higher pleasures correspond to the exercise of higher human faculties or capacities (as opposed to animal sensations). [Mill implies that these "higher capacities" can be cultivated or developed through education or "nurture."]

4. Ability to judge higher from lower pleasures depends upon experience. Those who have experienced only lower pleasures cannot distinguish higher from lower pleasures. Those who have experienced the pleasures of the mind and virtue as well as sensual pleasures (who are "competently acquainted with both) are capable of judging. "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." Higher pleasures make up in quality what they lack in quantity. Pleasures are not homogeneous (they are of different kinds or classes). Happiness for human beings is different from happiness for pigs. Humans can lose their capacity for enjoying higher pleasures.

5. [Note: It is presupposed that human nature is in everyone basically the same. What distinguishes "beings of higher faculties" from beings of lower faculties is not nature, but nurture. A "taste" for higher pleasures, especially those relating to the "social welfare," must be cultivated. Universal quality of education in an ideal society would ensure that all human beings would find pleasure in the exercise of their highest faculties and would feel pleasure in devotion to the common welfare.]

6. The utilitarian standard is a social standard ("what is right in conduct is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned"). The utilitarian must be "as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator."

For an expanded summary, see John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873): Utilitarianism, by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

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