"Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

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Terence Landman                                                 Monday 22 August 5pm       Student Number:                                                I.T.P. Essay. Term 3


“Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”

In this academic essay there will be an in depth look at the words of Mill, in terms of actions and their labels of either right and wrong, and those connotations to happiness and, so to speak the reverse of happiness. There will be an attempt through various different channels, to illustrate the absurdity of utilitarianism, in the sense of its mere provisional assessment of promoting happiness. Furthermore this essay will also emphasize the fact that happiness is subjective and the ripple effects this would have on the utilitarian theory. Lastly this essay will deal with the complications utilitarianism might have on an individual’s fundamental rights and the fact that though it is sometimes our duty, in terms of moral ‘rights’ to act in accordance to a utilitarian, this doesn’t mean that we need adopt the principle or be forced to always adhere to its policies.    

In chapter two, ‘What Utilitarianism is’, Mill makes the statement and claim that morality is based on the foundations that the right thing to do on any occasion is that which aims to give the maximum happiness for all concerned:

“… Actions are right in proportion, as they tend to promote happiness, wrong, as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.  By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain, by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” (Mill, Utilitarianism, p.697)

This may also be expressed in the simpler phrase: “the greatest good for the greatest number” (Teach yourself Philosophy, Mel Thompson, p149) Mill takes it one step further, by saying that morality requires impartial consideration of the interests of everyone involved,

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“As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires [an agent] to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator” (Mill, Utilitarianism, p.702).

And it is thus that our own decisions and interests can only be considered in contrast and similar weight to that of other people.

In grasping this crude and make shift overview, I would like you to consider the following example which is at first believed to embrace and support utilitarianism, but ultimately shakes its foundations:

“Imagine you are the doctor in charge of two seriously ill patients. One ...

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