MILL?S UTILITARIANISM Essay, Research Paper
In discussing matters of right and wrong, it is essential to first lay down the foundation of these concepts. These terms are indeed concepts because they hold no certain truth to the general society. True, righteousness may be a measurement of happiness, lack of pain, or a circumstantial mode of contentment, however, if you consider one persons? happiness to be another persons? pain, then what is the true measurement of right? We see that there are actually two distinct aspects to this question, a practical concern and a moral dilemma. First we are faced with a practical sense of rightness. It is noticed that any action can roughly be separated into its intention and its delivery or furthermore, its consequence. The practical sense of what is right would be embedded in the validity and pureness of the intention, regardless of its future consequences. On the other hand, we could measure what is right or wrong solely on the consequences that the intentions entail. As an example of this conflict we can look at a socially unacceptable act such as murder. Is it the intention or planning of the act that deems a person to be ?bad? or rather is it the performance and consequences of the murder that makes this act bad? John Stuart Mill address?s this issue in his declarative edition of right versus wrong known as Utilitarianism. Mill believes that the consequences are the sole determination of the character in question. Furthermore, he states that ?Utilitarianism could only attain its end by the general cultivation of character, even if each individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is concerned?? (pg.11). It is the interpretation and comparison of these two contradicting beliefs that will provide us means for further discussion. As noted, Mill is claiming that only pleasurable consequences have any value while he continues to state that ?nobleness? and ?character?, both being implications of intention, are the roots of utilitarianism.
Mill?s foundation for utilitarianism is based upon the self-concerned and self-guided view that only pleasurable consequences contribute value in the debate between right and wrong. Rather then considering society as a whole, Mill puts the emphasis on the individual alone. This is the basis for the concept of utilitarianism. Mill claims that we should always perform in ways that bring about the most amounts of pleasure to the most amount of people. However, this principle is somewhat fallible in that sometimes undesirable acts, such as murder, may in fact bring about the most amounts of pleasure to the most of amounts of people. Yet, this is no basis for accepting murder to be right because it does not bring pleasure to the victim in hand. This is a very practical objection to his theory. In the same respect, we cannot understand what will bring happiness to the most amounts of people unless we know what will not bring happiness. Mills reasoning is based on the accumulation of the human experience, rather then a certain instance in life. When we are confronted with a situation where are intentions could be right or wrong, we do not decide what to do based on the situation alone, but rather on the accumulative history of mankind. It is the experience of our society as a whole that makes that decision while still being the consequence of the individuals? character.
Interestingly enough, Mill states later on that utilitarianism can only be sought by the cultivation of nobleness of character. This would imply that intentions, or the innate characteristics, of the person would determine the amount of pleasure that would be experienced. In other words, it isn?t what you do, but what you choose. Here is where we notice that in any particular case, we seek the greatest enjoyment at the lowest expense. A noble character, in this situation, would knowingly seek greater enjoyment of themselves simply for recognizing their own satisfaction. Consequently, others would undoubtedly benefit from this agents? strong sense of happiness and even more so, the agents? inspiration would be felt by the society as a whole. It can therefore be noted that cultivation of nobleness of character is indeed an acceptable virtue in respect to utilitarianism.
In order two reconcile these two positions, Mills describes the greatest happiness theory in terms of quantity and quality. If we consider the quality of happiness, we need to set some type of basis to compare happiness to. Mill relates the quality of happiness to that of a swine. Our level of intelligence is determined by our ability to perceive this happiness and that is what puts us above animals. He states, ?It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. ? (pg. 10) . The clear distinction between humans and animals is our intellectual ability. We achieve happiness through levels of intellect and therefore it would be fair to say that pleasure (happiness) is a measurement of character rather then solely being from the consequences of our actions.
Mills seems to be as successful as he can be in reconciling these two contrasting concepts. On one hand, he is susceptible to the definition of utilitarianism, knowing that the core means of pleasure is based upon your actions and consequences. However, he incorporated the meaningfulness of intellect and character in order to maximize the happiness and quality of life. The very means of how we are pleased is simply who we are. Whether that path is through intellect, intention, or consequence we certainly know our pleasure is derived by our ability to make the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.