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Utilitarianism

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Autor:   •  October 10, 2010  •  937 Words (4 Pages)  •  361 Views

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Utilitarianism

In his book, J.S. Mill attempts to build on Jeremy Bentham's original idea of Utilitarianism. His definition of the moral theory is one that is grounded in Bentham's original work but also extends to include remarks to criticisms of Utilitarianism.

Mill believes that, like Bentham, utility is what is valuable to society. Utility, according to Mill, is the promotion of pleasure or the absence of pain. He defines this as happiness, which is why he refers to utility as the Greatest Happiness Principle (Mill 55). Thus, pleasure (or painlessness) is what society finds valuable. Because society finds happiness valuable, it must attempt to maximize total happiness. Mill describes that the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain are the only ends desirable to society. Because of this, any event, decision, or experience is favored only because it is a source for happiness. This means that actions are good if they lead to more happiness and bad if they prevent it (Mill 55) .

Mill further states that happiness or pleasure is stratified. There are different levels of pleasures. Some pleasures are of higher quality than other pleasures and thus more desirable than pleasures of lower quality. Mill defines a high quality pleasure as one that if people would choose that pleasure, even if it brought upon slight pains, over another pleasure. The adage "Ignorance is bliss" would be one with Mill would strongly disagree. He says that once people are mindful of these higher pleasures, they will desire actions that promote those types of pleasure (Mill 56-58).

Mill also states that Utilitarianism is not promoting selfishness or self-indulgence. The happiness mentioned is not solely that of the individual, but primarily that of society as a whole. In fact, all actions should be based on what is better for society as a whole. Usually, however, most actions that an individual can take have a very small scope in its effect for the whole of society. But it should still be followed.

(i) One of the objections to Utilitarianism is that it fails to provide a manner of discovering whom to praise, reward, blame, or punish. Critics of Utilitarianism state that Utilitarianism does not account for what society is responsible of reacting to an individual's action, at least explicitly. This conception may be partly a result of Utilitarianism having a strong focus on the repercussions of an individual's actions on society, and shedding little light on the reactions of society back on the individual. However, the idea that Utilitarianism fails to take consideration in whom to blame and praise is primarily a result of what J.J.C. Smart describes as neglect of a distinction between utility of action and utility of praise. However, J.J.C Smart begs to differ:

"Ð'...we come to like praise for its own sake, and are thus influenced by the possibility of being given it. Praising a person is thus an important action in itself Ð'- it has significant effects. A utilitarian must therefore learn to control his acts of praise and dispraise, thus perhaps concealing his approval of an action when he thinks that the expression of such approval might have bad effects, and perhaps even praising actions of which he does not really approve. (Smart 49-50)

Smart says that praise is highly influential in regards to a person's actions because receiving praise is a means towards achieving happiness. Thus, a utilitarian will desire to commit actions that come with praise. Because of this when one praises,

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