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Utilitarianism sample essay sample essay

John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and political economist, is known today as one of the most influential sponsors for Utilitarianism. His moral theory tends to go along with a “Utilitarian rubric” (Fitzpatrick, 2006) and thus holds that the theory is based on how to define right and wrong in terms of happiness. For Mill, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (J. S Mill, 1861, pg. 9). If happiness, for Mill at least, is pleasure, then it is also the absence of pain.

Although this can be seen as a hedonistic approach, Mill supports the idea of different levels for pleasure. In his essay Utilitarianism, Mill draws a comparison for human and swine pleasure; he argues that if the pleasures were to be the same, then “the rule of life which is good enough for one would be good enough for the other. ” Clearly man is more advanced than pigs and therefore, in Mill’s opinion, we must conduct ourselves in such a way that reflects how we rank happiness; as more advanced beings, Mill believes that we must place a higher importance on “mental over bodily pleasures” (J. S. Mill, 1861).


Like any philosophical approach to ethics, Utilitarianism is simply attempting to explain where the boundaries of “good” and “evil” lie. The name utilitarianism is stemmed from the idea of utility and usefulness; in terms of utilitarianism, an act is good or morally right if it brings about a desired result, which deems it useful for the greater good (Wilkens 2011). If happiness is good, then the “desired result” should be happiness because, by definition, happiness is good in itself. This can easily be seen as a circular argument, but a Utilitarian, such as Mill, phrases this 2 Utilitarianism Essay 3 idea as “we ought to because we do. ”

Humans naturally want to attain or be in a state of happiness, which is taken as proof that the pursuit of happiness must not be evil. Utilitarianism is also distinguished by impartiality and agent-neutrality. Everyone’s happiness counts the same, which means that we are obliged to think of the well being of everyone who would be impacted by any decisions made (Wilkens, 2011). When one maximizes the good, it is the good objectively considered; if happiness will be rewarded to the majority of a population, then it is good to give it to them even if it causes pain to the individual.

Quantitative and Qualitative Jeremy Bentham, fellow philosopher of Mill, aimed to make a way to quantify the results of any ethical decision. He coined the method of “hedonistic calculus” in which he tried to measure objectively how much happiness could be produced from an ethical decision (Wilkens, 2011). In his process, Bentham divides happiness into several categories and adds up how much happiness is created from within each of the categories; the category with the highest ranking would be the ethical choice. John Stuart Mill focused his version of utilitarianism to stress the qualitative characteristics of happiness rather than the amount of it as Bentham did.

Mill’s main objection was that there are different levels of desire – of happiness – that hold different levels of importance, and must therefore be weighed according to that level. He argued that it was not possible to measure happiness or the quality of it, hence deeming Bentham’s calculus of felicity a problem. Though the two differ on many aspects, Bentham and Mill agree that pleasure for the greater good is better than pleasure for only an individual, making happiness fundamentally good (Shaw, 2008).

All utilitarian thought has been based on past experience and learning from the consequences of those decisions. 3 Utilitarianism Essay 3 Mill’s Approach: A Critique The utilitarian view has attracted so many supporters because of its ability to link happiness to good; it would be next to impossible to argue that happiness is bad for humanity. Unfortunately, utilitarianism creates an “ethical limbo” in a sense that we can never know the results of a decision to be good or bad because consequences can only be seen in the future (Wilkens, 2011).

It would be impossible to make a standard of judgment based on consequences with Mill’s approach to utilitarianism because we would never truly know the full extent of the consequences of any given action. In Theory Cancer in its various forms has taken the lives of millions all over the world already, and it is unknown how many more will also die prematurely from this disease. Let’s pretend that in the future, doctors discover a genetic mutation only present in an unborn baby (that is, still in the womb) that has the potential to cure cancer.

The doctors also know that this baby will be born with many physical mutations that would hinder him in life, causing him unavoidable unhappiness. If the doctors harvest the baby’s DNA, they would need to kill the baby before it is born. But, if the baby is left to live his life, he will later go on and find the cure for HIV, AIDS, and other terminal illness; which would be the ethical choice? For a utilitarian, the choice would be simple: the happiness of the majority (which would be those currently suffering from cancer) outweighs that of the baby, his family, and those suffering from terminal illnesses in the future.

One death now is better, or happier, than millions 4 Utilitarianism Essay 3 of deaths in the future. This situation critiques utilitarianism in its inability to fully comprehend the consequences of a decision; it should be deemed unethical to kill a baby, yet to a utilitarian it would be acceptable if it served a purpose even before its birth. 5 Utilitarianism Essay 3 References Mill, J. S. (1861). Utilitarianism. Raleigh, N. C. : Alex Catalogue. Fitzpatrick, J. R. (2006). John Stuart Mill’s Political Philosophy: Balancing Freedom and the Collective Good. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing.

Retrieved from http://www. ebrary. com from http://site. ebrary. com. library. gcu. edu:2048/lib/grandcanyon/reader. action? ppg=10&docID=10224803&tm=1414980113298 Wilkens, Steve. (2011). Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right and Wrong. Downers Grove, IL. Shaw, W. H. (2008). Utilitarianism. In R. W. Kolb (Ed. ), Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society (Vol. 5, pp. 2158-2162). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://go. galegroup. com. library. gcu. edu:2048/ps/i. do? id=GALE %7CCX2660400848&v=2. 1&u=canyonuniv&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=83325aac55 e64da1ad4e917fe0af0cbb.

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