Beginning his preliminary observations, Mill commences by detecting some sort of a crisis in ethical belief due to the inability of people to reach an agreement on the foundation of the philosophical doctrines of “right” and “wrong”. Mill debates the necessity of encompassing this type of an establishment or foundation for ethics to contain some authenticity or impact. If deeds or acts of the people are to be evaluated by their capacity to promote “good” ends, then it is crucial to identify those ends that are good.
Furthermore, the debate is not merely an academic one; on the contrary, it sets the foundation of legal as well as ethical thinking for which a clearly defined moral standard is a prerequisite. Presenting the crisis, Mill initiates utilitarianism as a prospective resolution. He asserts that it is already in embedded use as a standard thereby conforming to the stipulations of existing as a primary principle.
It is imperative to observe that Mill identifies the rationale of morality as producing a particular worldly condition. Mill classifies this as an essential framework to comprehend morality. For instance, lying is regarded as something immoral. But, is lying in a circumstance to stop five other people from having to lie, ethically justified? The answer to this question is dependent on an individual’s personal belief of the function of morality which may be to either produce the “best” universal state of the world, or the administering of individual actions free from the general consequences. As is visible, there are numerous variants to this debate, and Mill’s vision of morality is the only way of reflecting on the question.
Mill employs the theory of “first principles” and fundamentals of morality right through the essay. Adhering to this concept, Mill emphasizes that it is not sufficient merely to describe acts as being good or evil; in actual fact, there must be some reason or base that gives these actions an ethical temperament, as to why expressions like “good” or “evil” are significant. The opening stage for Mill’s philosophy is our cultural and societal dilemma about the inability of agreement among the people regarding the essential principle of morality, or its importance and relevance to society in general. Mill elucidates that his essay will be an endeavor to recognize this basis forever by naming and identifying it as the concept of utility. Mill would then disclose the reason revealing why the moral basis is so extraordinary and so vital to our survival as humans.
A majority of people misconstrue utilitarianism by deducing utility as an opponent of pleasure. Actually, mill states, the utility should be defined as pleasure or as the absence of pain giving it an additional name, the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle.
According to this principle, “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.” In accordance with this explanation, “pleasure and the absence of pain” then, are the only preferences as the final results as they are intrinsically “good”. Therefore, besides this, any situation, incident, or occurrence is preferable only if it can be a basis for this pleasure, and accordingly acts and behavior of people are considered to be good whilst they direct to an elevated stage of universal pleasure, and bad if they reduce that stage.
In the subsequent analysis Mill undertakes the assertion that it is contemptible and humiliating to diminish the connotation of life to ‘pleasure’. Mill retorts by stating that the happiness and pleasure of human beings are more advanced animalistic types since as soon as people are notified of their superior powers, they will by no means be content to allow them to remain uncultured. Hence happiness is an indication that we are implementing our superior talents. It is correct that a few pleasures could possibly be “base”; nevertheless, this by no means implies all of them to be the same: in fact, some are inherently more precious than the rest.
At the time of constructing an ethical decision on a deed or an action, utilitarianism accordingly takes into consideration not simply the quantity, but additionally the quality of the pleasures that are derived from the action.
Mill demarcates the method of distinguishing between pleasures of high and low quality: A pleasure is rated as superior quality if people would prefer it over another pleasure even if it fetches discomfort along with it. Furthermore, Mill asserts this to be an “unquestionable fact” because, if humans are granted identical approaches to all types of pleasures, humans will choose the ones that plea to their “higher” senses. An individual will not desire to turn into an animal just as a learned individual will not prefer to turn into an ignorant. Although an individual using elevated abilities tends to suffer additionally in life, thus the familiar maxim “ignorance is bliss”, he would on no account select an inferior subsistence, and will generally prefer to preserve his self-esteem.
An added misapprehension concerning utilitarianism shoots from the fact that happiness is often confused with satisfaction. It is because of their profound wisdom of the worldly confines that humans who utilize advanced abilities are frequently dissatisfied. Nonetheless, their happiness is of superior quality to that of a creature or a menial being.
Mill inscribes, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” He further states that “if the fool, or the pig, are of different opinions, it is because they only know their side of the question.” Accordingly, the individuals who are the most eligible to evaluate the quality of pleasure are those who have the experience of both, the superior as well as the inferior.
Furthermore, Mill examines that even if an individual had a “noble character” which fetched a reduced amount of happiness, even then the world would profit from it. Consequently, since the ‘greatest happiness principle’ regards the entire measure of happiness, a dignified personality, is preferred by the standards of utilitarianism although it is not as much preferred for the individual himself.
After acting in response to the opposition that utilitarianism exalts contemptuous pleasures, Mill proposes and reacts to further condemnations of utilitarianism.
An objection of this kind is that happiness could not be the logical aspiration of human life, for the reason that it is unachievable. Besides, individuals are able to survive devoid of happiness, and that all honorable individuals have become righteous by relinquishing happiness.
Foremost, Mill retorts that it is an overstatement to affirm that humans cannot be happy. He argues that happiness, as described as instants of ecstasy taking place in a life disturbed by a small number of hurt, is without doubt likely, and has the potential to be likely for just about everyone if educational and societal measures were special. The chief resources of unhappiness are self-centeredness and a deficiency of intellectual development. Therefore, it is entirely possible for almost all people to be happy if their edification fosters suitable morals. In addition, the majority of the worldly ills, together with poverty and sickness, can be relieved by a prudent and active society committed to their eradication.
Subsequently, Mill tackles the dispute that a majority of honorable people on the record are those persons who have relinquished happiness. He does confess this fact to be correct, and he also acknowledges that there are sufferers who renounce their happiness. But, Mill debates that martyrs ought to forfeit happiness for a particular superior-conclusion which ought to be the happiness of other humans.
Sacrifices are actually made so that other people need not make related sacrifices as the embedded value of a sacrifice should be the happiness of others. Mill confesses that the eagerness to forgo one’s happiness for others is the utmost virtue. In addition, he declares that to retain this kind of willing attitude is in fact the best opportunity of achieving happiness, as it will guide a being to be peaceful regarding the possibilities of his life. He however states, that although utilitarians give worth to sacrificing their personal gain for the benefit of other people, they do not consider sacrifice to be superior. It is good only if it has the potential to promote happiness, and ceases to be virtuous if it does not do so.
Mill examines that the norm of a utilitarian for evaluating an action or a deed is the happiness of people and not solely of the mediator. Hence, an individual should not rate his personal happiness over and above the happiness of other beings, and as such, law and edification facilitate the inculcation of this kindness in persons. Nonetheless, this does not imply that the sole motive of people should only be to present the supreme good, as utilitarianism is certainly not worried about the intention behind an action because it believes the integrity of a deed to rely solely on the goodness of the outcome.
Additionally, in a majority of daily life phases, an individual will not be influencing many people, and therefore is not required to consider his or her deeds with regard to the good of all, but merely to the good of those who are concerned. Only the individuals, who labor in the field of community and consequently influence the lives of several other people, should consider community service a habitually.
An added condemnation of utilitarianism is that it turns people into “cold and unsympathizing,” because it is worried exclusively with the outcome of the deeds and acts of people and not morality or immorality of the people in particular. Mill states that all moral principles review deeds and acts within themselves, without taking into consideration the integrity of the people who execute them. He however states that in case the disapproval is due to the fact that several utilitarians perceive utilitarianism to be a special norm of goodness, and do not realize other pleasing “beauties of character”, then the critique is valid. He declares the sole promotion of ethical approach is a blunder more so if compassion or creative appreciations are rejected.
Mill then clears some more misinterpretations regarding the utilitarian theory. Some critics have labeled utilitarianism as a godless dogma since its ethical basis is not the will of God but the happiness of human beings. Mill clarifies that the censure relies on what we perceive the moral character of God to be because if God wishes all His creatures to be happy, then utilitarianism is more spiritual than any existing principle.
The beliefs of a utilitarian are based on the realities of morals divulged by God and comply with utilitarian philosophy and several moralists, who may not be utilitarians, have alleged that firstly, an ethical doctrine is a prerequisite, and should be vigilantly pursued, to facilitate the will of God. Since utilitarianism is often confused with ‘expediency’ it is deemed corrupt. Mill debates that harming people does not actually mean being “expedient” but the acts against the interest of the entire society expose the rivals of goodness.
Numerous critics are of the view that before executing an action, generally there is insufficient time to ponder upon its general utility result. Mill invalidates this by stating that this was similar to uttering that our conduct cannot be guided by Christianity simply because it is not possible to read the Bible whenever we had to take action. He asserts that there are complete records of human continuation which enable us to study the propensities of deeds to guide to accurate consequences.
Mill asserts that all the useful knowledge and experiences which we possess must be imparted to the children as well, not implying that they are necessarily correct but because there exists a great scope in learning the outcomes of deeds on the general happiness of humans.