Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill suggests that a persons ethical decision-making process should be based solely upon the amount of happiness that the person can receive. Although Mill fully justifies himself, his approach lacks certain criteria for which happiness can be considered. Happiness should be judged, not only by pleasure, but by pain as well. This paper will examine Mills position on happiness, and the reasoning behind it. Showing where there are agreements and where there are disagreements will critique the theory of Utilitarianism.

By showing the problems that the theory have will reveal what should make up ethical decision-making. John Stuart Mill supports and explains his reasoning in his book, Utilitarianism. Mill illustrates the guidelines of his theory. Mill defines utilitarianism as the quest for happiness. His main point is that one should guide his or her judgements by what will give pleasure.

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Mill believes that a person should always seek to gain pleasure and reject pain. Utilitarianism also states that the actions of a person should be based upon the”greatest happiness principle”. This principle states that ethical actions command the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Mill further explores the need for pleasure by noting “a being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy.” . He acknowledges that some pleasures are more alluring than others are. He adds to this by making known that when placing value in things to calculate pleasure, not only quantity important but quality as well.

Mills criteria for happiness is easily understood, some statements that he gives are questionable. John Stuart Mill plainly laid out what he believes that the basis for ethical decision-making. First, the pursuit of pleasure is directly related to happiness. This idea can be easily accepted. It is natural for a person to focus his goals on things that will bring him pleasure.

It would be absurd if someones goal in life was to be poor and starving. This being said, it does not mean that people are only happy due wealth but that no ones goals are focused on poverty. Although there are many issues that can be agreeable with Mill, there are problems that exist with his theory of utilitarianism. First, Mill says that all ethical decisions should be based on pleasure. This statement becomes questionable when Mill states that pleasure is the sole requirement for happiness.

Pain indirectly effects happiness. Pain is an indirect factor because is not the object of ones happiness, but is an obstacle which one must overcome to gain it. If one is to avoid all pain in his or her life, then how will that person truly know what true pleasure feels like? True pleasure comes only after experiencing pain. If a person always wins a race, does he or she feel true pleasure each time they win or does it turn into a feeling that they come to expect? If there is a person who loses races constantly, will his happiness be greater when he finally wins? The rewards and pleasures of the second person would greatly outweigh the feelings of happiness the first had because he or she knows how it feels to be defeated. The second person knows the pain that is received because of failure so when he when he will recognize the joy and pleasure that comes with winning.

Using this same setting, would it be better for the second person to run in races filled with people who are not matched in skill just so he may always win or should he or she race individuals who are equally matched? Although the first would produce pleasure, the second example would yield the greater amount of pleasure due to the understanding that the competition was evenly matched. Both of these examples show that pain can ultimately cause pleasure, and in some cases the presence of pain will increase the feeling of happiness. Another point were there is disagreement is when Mill justifies the pursuit of pleasure by saying “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” This statement is not universally true. People have different perspectives, what is pleasure for one could be pain for another. Who is right and is wrong? A problem evolves because there is no set definition pertaining to what is pleasurable therefore right and painful therefore wrong.

The final disagreement with Utilitarian states that if someone saves a person who is drowning, the rescuer did what is morally right even if his intentions were wrong. This is difficult to understand. If the rescuer saved the person, only to make the person die of a greater pain ; Mill still believes the rescuer to be morally right. Intentions should be very important when it concerns morality. The difficulty in deciding if the persons intentions are moral is that there is no way to know for sure.

The fact that there is no way to positively tell, the person committing the act does. For believers of God and Jesus Christ, it is a sin to have impure thoughts. According to Mill, the impure thoughts dont become a sin until someone else knows about them. Whether the act is told to someone or it is kept a secret, it is still a sin. No matter how many other people think you are morally right, if you know in your heart that you are wrong, then there is no way that you can be moral.

Although Mill has made good points, he did not accurately describe the criteria for happiness. Ethical thinking should not be based solely on pleasure. It is true that pleasure is important to happiness, but one must deal with pain and misery to be truly happy. Good and bad constantly affect each other but, the relationship between the two are polar opposites. This statement holds true no matter what one believes. To find happiness, the opposing sides must find a suitable balance.

This does not mean that pain is always a daily part of life, but that it can not and should not be avoided. If one were to try to avoid pain, it is quite possible that they would inadvertently pass up pleasure. This would happen because a person would be too worried to take a chance on failing. Pain is a part of life just as pleasure is. To reap the benefits of one, there must be consequences given to the other. There is a quote that goes, “You must drink from the chalice of pain, before you can sip from the elixir of self-respect” Another criteria for happiness and morality should be based upon attentions.

If one performs a moral action, but has immoral intentions, that person should not be considered ethically correct. To be truly right and happy, one must not only act but think right. Mill suggests that pleasure should guide our decision-making. While the statement is true, it is not fully correct. If a person will deal with pain that come from hard work, dedication, and perseverance, then the benefits will be that much sweeter.