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Does J.S.Mill abandon Utilitarianism?

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Introduction

Does J.S.Mill abandon Utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is a simple and comprehensive ethical theory. Its central principle is that right and wrong should be understood in terms on resultant happiness. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was one of the main theorists with regards to utilitarianism and he believed that "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation"1. The moral philosophy behind Utilitarianism is that a person ought to do whatever they require in order to maximise the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism is also described as a consequentialist theory of morality, "the morality of actions depends on the consequences which they tend to produce"2. An action is morally right if and only if it leads to the greatest good of the greatest number over the greatest length of time. John Stuart Mill along with many others had a view on how the Utilitarian theory should be interpreted and, whether or not he eventually seemed to abandon the whole theory is something, which will be looked at and evaluated throughout the essay. Just briefly before I start analysing J.S.Mill and his interpretation on Utilitarianism, I will discuss what work Mill eventually seemed to develop. Jeremy Benthams initial thoughts on Utilitarianism were that in any situation we should act in order to pursue the greatest pleasure and in accordance with that, the least pain. ...read more.

Middle

When Mill developed his theory of higher and lower pleasures, he also indicated that although he firmly believes that any person who had experienced both the higher and lower pleasures, e.g. sex and poetry, that person would always choose what he believed to be the higher pleasure i.e. poetry. However in some instances Mill also states that some people may decide to reject the higher pleasure in exchange for the lower pleasures. "Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not deliberately because they prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying"8 Mills higher and lower pleasure theory shows that he is not abandoning utilitarianism, he is merely developing the idea which Bentham had in the first place, however when Mill suggests that not only can pleasures be distinguished between higher and lower, some can also be seen as more noble. With this in mind it is showing that Mill is now moving away from Utilitarianism. The concept of utilitarianism implies that we should always act in order to maximise happiness and that is the only way. ...read more.

Conclusion

Act utilitarianism states that it is the value of the consequences of a particular act that determines whether the act is right or not. Rule utilitarianism maintains that a behavioural code or rule is morally right if the consequences of adopting that rule are more favourable that unfavourable to everyone. It directs the deliberating agent to calculate the consequences simply of the individual act in question. It directs the deliberating agent to act according to rules such that if everyone acted on them, happiness would be maximised. Rule Utilitarians sometimes claim, "Commonly recognised principles of morality in fact express the evolved wisdom about which sorts of actions in fact tend to bring weal and woe"11. Therefore, utilitarianism is not such a revolutionary proposal at it may have seemed. Overall after analysing many aspects of Mills theory with regards to Utilitarianism I believe that he is not abandoning the whole concept, but is purely enlarging the scope of utilitarianism, arguing for a qualitative element to be adopted. The point was to maximise the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but also the higher pleasures of the greatest number; higher pleasures being the intellectual rather than the carnal pleasures e.g. poetry over sex. Although he didn't believe that all of Benthams work was correct, he never seemed to undermine it, but Mill merely enhanced the way in which people thought about utilitarianism and the way in which it works and hold moral ground. ...read more.

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