Utilitarianism - Third Writing Assignment Philosophy 10100...

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Third Writing Assignment Philosophy 10100; Spring 2007 Section 10: TA: Josh Rasmussen John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism One major philosophical debate exists today over the “foundation of morality,” or the grounds that determine what makes a certain act morally right or morally wrong. An important theory in this field is Utilitarianism as put forth by John Stuart Mill. Mill argues that the determining factor for the morality of an action is its “utility” or the amount of pleasure the action creates. In this paper, I will further explain the content of Mill’s utilitarian argument and also explain the “Doctrine of the Swine” objection and Mill’s response to it. In addition I will analyze the effectiveness of this objection and responses and offer my own reply to Mill’s answer. I will conclude with some additional support for Utilitarianism, with a brief response to some more modern objections and alternatives. In the argument Mill says, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the opposite of happiness.” In essence, he states that the morality of any given action depends on the happiness or opposite thereof the action produces. This gives rise to the question of what happiness and unhappiness are, which Mill answers by defining happiness as “intended pleasure and the absence of pain” while unhappiness is seen as, “pain and the privation of pleasure.” By defining happiness in this way, you make morality an entirely consequential science, by which motives have no influence on the morality of actions , only the results it brings about matters in calculating the morality of that action . Mill argues that this is a better system of moral diagnostics because it is able to deal with each action on an individual basis therefore,
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Meehan 2 grounding morality in a more concrete doctrine, not in some abstract general principles. In addition, the moral “goodness” of a person can be determined by motives, independent of the morality (i.e. utility) of an action, thereby drawing a line of distinction between person and act. Utilitarianism allows for the possibility of a good person performing an immoral act and a bad person performing a moral one. The idea of tying morality to “utility” defined as pleasure is one that provokes a strong dislike among many critics, who reduce the idea to one of pure pleasure seeking. For example, these critics claim that utilitarianism would say it is morally right to get drunk and party as opposed to pursuing some sort of higher learning on any certain occasion when these options presented themselves, because the former is more “pleasurable” to the actor. They claim that this theory of morality shows humans with no higher goal than personal pleasure, no “better and nobler” purpose in life. This leads to a human existence equal to that of swine, with no desire greater than that of an animal; this objection to utilitarianism is referred to as the “Doctrine of the Swine.” Mill’s answers this objection by challenging the objector’s idea of pleasure. He
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This essay was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course PHIL PHIL 10100 taught by Professor David during the Spring '08 term at Notre Dame.

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Utilitarianism - Third Writing Assignment Philosophy 10100...

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