Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Utilitarianism Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Mar. 2018. Web. 22 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, March 9). Utilitarianism Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 22, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "Utilitarianism Study Guide." March 9, 2018. Accessed January 22, 2019.


Course Hero, "Utilitarianism Study Guide," March 9, 2018, accessed January 22, 2019,

Utilitarianism | Quotes


All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action ... must take their whole character and color from [that] end.

Narrator, Chapter 1

In this quote Mill makes an analogy between action and moral principle. He is trying to establish the idea that morality is determined by general principles applied to specific instances, in much the same way, he says, that specific actions are usually designed to produce some specific end.


A test of right and wrong must be the means ... of ascertaining what is right or wrong ... not a consequence of having already ascertained it.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Again Mill here is making a comparison between action and morality. He intends to set out a guiding principle that will allow people to know ahead of time which actions will produce good works and which bad. While he relies on experience to guide his moral philosophy, he searches for a moral philosophy that will dictate future experience.


They habitually express by it the rejection, or the neglect, of pleasure in some of its forms; of beauty, of ornament, or of amusement.

Narrator, Chapter 2

A fair amount of Mill's work in Chapter 2 is taken up with objections to utilitarianism. Mill's main contention is that critics of utilitarianism misunderstand the concept because they define pleasure erroneously. Where they do understand the equation of pleasure with happiness, they erroneously reject it as trivial or morally insignificant.


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

Narrator, Chapter 2

This is Mill's central moral principle, the Greatest Happiness Principle, derived directly from Jeremy Bentham. From it can be extracted a complete moral theory, in terms of individual actions, rules for acting, and the social good. An action's moral worth, or a rule for acting, is determined by its consequences. Good consequences are those involving happiness; that is, an action is good when it produces happiness and avoids pain.


All desirable things ... are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.

Narrator, Chapter 2

When thinking about what is good, one often thinks of what is desirable. It would be peculiar, after all, to consciously desire that which is harmful or painful. According to Mill, the ultimate end, or that which is desirable in itself and not for some further end, will consequently be pleasurable—or at least prevent pain.


Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything [else] as happiness.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Mill thinks the critics of utilitarianism are wrong to equate it with base or animalistic pleasure. Human pleasures, he maintains, are elevated in connection with intellect. In other words, what a human being finds pleasurable is not restricted to satisfying the basic urges and appetites. In fact, pleasure that is proper to a human is to be found in the intellectual pleasures. Thus, Mill distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures.


Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all ... who have experience of both give a decided preference ... that is the more desirable pleasure.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Mill recognizes that there are people who become mired in the lower pleasures. The explanation of this fact, he thinks, is found partly in an absence of any experience with the higher pleasures. Those who have experienced both not only prefer the higher to the lower pleasures, but are also better equipped to judge which type of pleasure is superior.


A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, [and] is capable probably of more acute suffering.

Narrator, Chapter 2

An objection to utilitarianism, and the identification of higher pleasures with a superior type of happiness, is the fact that those who pursue higher pleasures are more prone to suffering and are harder to satisfy than those who do not. Mill agrees that one who seeks higher pleasures has to work more for them, and is more sensitive to their own and others' suffering than would be the case if they focused solely on the lower pleasures. Nevertheless, Mill thinks this person is ultimately happier than the one whose standard of pleasure is low. Recognition of the superior pleasure means, to the one who pursues it, vastly more happiness than would be otherwise obtained.


It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

Narrator, Chapter 2

This part of a famous passage expresses Mill's view that there is a qualitative distinction between intellectual and animal pleasures. Consequently, discomfort for the one who pursues intellectual or higher pleasures is still a superior happiness to one who is content with the lower or base pleasures. The statement's direct opposite could be, "ignorance is bliss."


Society between equals can only exist on the understanding that the interests of all are to be regarded equally.

Narrator, Chapter 3

Mill is keen to refute the claim that utilitarianism allows for the sacrifice of one person's happiness in order to secure happiness for "the greater good." According to Mill, each person's interest in their own happiness is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else's. Consequently, utility does not demand the aforementioned sacrifice.


The sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Mill takes an entirely empirical approach to proving the acceptability of utilitarianism. Consequently, he looks to experience for evidence that the only thing that people desire for itself is happiness.


Those who desire virtue for its own sake, desire it either because ... it is a pleasure, or because ... being without it is a pain.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Mill argues that virtue and happiness are related but not the same thing. He acknowledges that some people seek virtue, but he argues that is because virtue is their definition of happiness. Indeed, virtue is associated with higher pleasures, those connected to intellectual pursuits, and available exclusively to humans.


A [right is a] valid claim on society to protect [a person] in the possession of it.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Mill's goal in Chapter 5 is to prove that justice is not distinct from utility, but is instead a part of it. Associated with rights, justice is felt most powerfully when a right is violated. A right, in turn, is a legitimate claim an individual has on society. In other words, to have a right involves the valid expectation that society will protect it.


The justice which is grounded on utility [is] the chief part, and incomparably the most sacred and binding part, of all morality.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Mill argues that justice is based on utility, and justice's goal is to promote and protect happiness. The sentiment attached to the idea of justice demands vengeance for harm done, either to oneself or another. It feels more profound, as it were, than the "expediency" that attached to utility, but this difference is simply one of degree, rather than kind. This is because justice's foundation is utility, or the promotion of the social good.


Justice remains the appropriate name for certain social utilities which are vastly more important, and therefore more absolute and imperative, than any others.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Moral rights are those grounded in utility. These are associated with justice, and make up the concept of a perfect duty, which Mill discusses in Chapter 5. The analyses of duty and justice are conceptual paths to moral rights. That which is expedient or good is associated with imperfect duties, those obligations one can fulfill in various ways. Fulfilling an obligation that is just or right, however, is far less flexible.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Utilitarianism? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!