Philosophy Essay

Philosophy Essay

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Along with other noted philosophers, John Stuart Mill developed the nineteenth century philosophy known as Utilitarianism - the contention that man should judge everything in life based upon its ability to promote the greatest individual happiness. While Bentham, in particular, is acknowledged as the philosophy’s founder, it was Mill who justified the axiom through reason. He maintained that because human beings are endowed with the ability for conscious thought, they are not merely satisfied with physical pleasures ;humans strive to achieve pleasures of the mind as well. Once man has ascended to this high intellectual level, he desires to stay there, never descending to the lower level of existence from which he began. In Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, Mill contends that “pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends” (Mill, 7). Before addressing his argument, Mill defines the topic, “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, ‘Utility’, or the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle’, holds that 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” (Mill, 7). Like a true philosopher, Mill proposes objections to the utilitarian principle, which he then attempts to refute. Pleasure, according to Mill, has rather arrogantly been regarded as being little more than attempting to keep a pig satisfied. Because man has the intellectual capacity for reason, he should aspire for something more. Mill argues that is exactly what man does. He does not merely attempt to seek momentary pleasure, but in utilitarianism, has the option to choose that which provides him with the most pleasure. According to Mill, “Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure” (Mill 8). Many have refuted Utilitarianism’s ideals and declared that man can live just as well without happiness. Mill acknowledges that this may be true in theory, that men do not conduct their lives in total pursuit of happiness, they still need a gauge with which to measure morality. Happiness does not necessarily mean continuous bliss, as such experiences are often transient. Regardless, happiness to some may merely translate to being the avoidance of pain. In Utilitarianism, Mill noted, “utility includes not solely the pursuit of happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness” (Mill 12). The pursuit of pleasure has also been condemned by critics as being little more than the promotion of one’s own interests, with no regard to the happiness of others. Mill disputes this as being narrow-minded, clarifying that the pleasure principle which forms the foundation for utilitarianism, “what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned” (Mill 16). With this acknowledgment, however, comes the criticism that people cannot possibly be motivated by something as satisfying the collective good of society. Mill countered this by pointing out, “The utilitarian morality does recognize in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others” (Mill 16). To the objection that pleasure is an acceptable end is contrary to Christian principles because it is “godless,”
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