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'Human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either part of happiness or a means to it' - Is this true? Why is the answer to this question so important to Mill?

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Introduction

'Human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either part of happiness or a means to it' - Is this true? Why is the answer to this question so important to Mill? In Chapter Four of Utilitarianism, Mill attempts to prove his moral theory: 'actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness'1. According to Crisp, his proof comprises three stages: happiness is desirable; the general happiness is desirable and nothing other than happiness is desirable. Mill sides with the inductive, empirical school, believing the intuitionists too unscientific, complementing his naturalism i.e. the natural sciences, including psychology, can explain everything. This essay shall examine each of the three stages and assess the link between human nature and desire. Finally, the importance to Mill that nothing apart from happiness is desired shall be considered. The first stage is that happiness is desirable, providing a basis for the remainder of the proof. Mill needs to prove that happiness is actually desirable in order to argue that humans desire nothing else other than happiness. He believes that the only evidence that something is desirable is that it is actually desired. He compares this to proving an object is visible. 'The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it'2. He illustrates that each individual's happiness is a good to that individual. ...read more.

Middle

Therefore, with the only ultimate end being happiness, any means to happiness can also be desired without departing from Mill's proof in the slightest. However, a counter-argument is that human behaviour ought to be guided by moral rules rather than ultimate ends. This assumption leads to the final stage of Mill's proof Finally, Mill tries to prove that there are no other ends than happiness. In the first two stages, he has sought to prove that happiness is desirable and that maximum overall happiness should be accepted as the end of our behaviour. The key initial objection is that, even if happiness is an end, then there are other ends as well. Mill attempts in his final stage to refute this challenge. The intuitionists would produce virtue as an end different from that of happiness and Mill does state in 4.4 that virtue is 'in common language...decidedly distinguished from happiness'9. Mill, as maintained by Crisp, is more likely to claim that acting virtuously is pleasurable rather than virtue alone, which he believes is not an enjoyable experience and could be painful. Arguably, Mill is heavily influenced by associationism, the psychological theory with which Mill grew up. According to associationism, the mind connects experiences that usually occur simultaneously or sequentially. This is what Mill refers to when he explains how means to happiness become desired for themselves. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, the presence of egoists could contradict the claim that human nature is so consituted to desire nothing but happiness. Mill says himself that each individual is primarily interested in their own happiness. The third stage is perhaps the most contentious and the weakest. Mill seeks to prove that happiness is the only ultimate end, whilst will, justice and virtue are all provided as alternative ultimate ends. His attempt to avoid this objection by arguing that pleasurable experiences derived from each of them make us happy, and therefore could support the claim in the title. In my opinion, human nature is, to a certain extent, constituted to desire what is part of happiness and the means to happiness. Yet, due to the objections and points raised by Moore, Williams and the intuitionists amongst others, I do not think that he has sufficiently disproved the existence of alternative ultimate ends to be entirely convincing. 1 Utilitarianism, J.S.Mill 2.2 2 Utilitarianism 4.3 3 Mill: On Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp, P.74 4 Mill: On Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp, P.76 5 Principles of the Self - Egoism and Altruism, Bernard Williams. P.250 6 Principles of the Self - Egoism and Altruism, Bernard Williams. P.254 7 Mill: On Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp, Page 80. 8 Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill 1.2 9 Mill: On Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp, Page 83. 10 Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill, 4.11 11 Mill: On Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp. P.88 12 Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill 4.9 Jessica Mead ...read more.

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