School Papers

This go on to explain in detail the

This essay considers Mill’s principle of utilitarianism critically
and summarises that Mill is incorrect to assume that ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness,
wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’ (Mill, 1998).
Although his theory is in many ways well calculated, it is overall lacking in
evidence and has deep routed flaws throughout. My essay will go on to explain
in detail the mains flaws in which Mill’s principle incurs while providing reasons
why, using counterexamples. I will take into account philosophers views,
contrasting to Mill’s, such as Kant and Rawls in order to explain my reasoning
further. The main issue I found with the theory was that it is illiberal to
assume what makes everyone happy and it deprives many from their rights by not
allowing them to choose their own moral judgement. Mill uses a combination of
rule and act utilitarianism within his principle, it is difficult to decide
which one he most strongly believed in. This essay takes his utilitarian
principle as a whole considering both.

 

The
main flaw I found with Mill’s theory is that it is an illiberal approach to
setting moral grounds by which people live their lives. The principle
disregards people’s rights as it enforces a moral guideline based on a majority
and what makes them happiest in specific situations. This excludes the minority
and their happiness, making Mill’s theory immoral as it lacks consideration for
everyone as individuals. The set moral standards may require punishing the
innocent in certain circumstances because Mill’s aim is to gain the highest net
happiness (Mill, 1998) so therefore only focuses on what makes the most people
happy, no matter who becomes unhappy in the minority. A counter-example that
displays this is if someone sails to an island of starving cannibals, according
to Utilitarianism, the correct moral act would be for the cannibals to eat the
sailor as it would produce the most pleasure to a greater number of people than
pain to only one. This shows how Mill’s utilitarianism may produce immoral acts
because the moral guide does not account for every situation. Mill’s theory is
therefore too narrow in its focus and requires a larger awareness of people as
human beings and all the different possible situations, which would be
practically impossible to predict. Mill is incorrect in saying ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend
to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse
of happiness’ (Mill, 1998) because some actions which will produce
happiness to one person can also produce unhappiness to others. It is
counterintuitive to try and attempt to predict what would produce the most
amount of happiness and apply a set of morals to achieve it as they are bound
to produce difficulties and inconsistencies.

 

John Rawls, a
political philosopher, also objected to Mill’s utilitarianism based on the idea
that his theory is completely illiberal. Rawls believed that utilitarianism
ignores the separateness and distinctness of people (Rawls, 1999).
Utilitarianism does not recognize that justice is what every free person would
choose as the moral bases to conduct their social cooperation under. Rawls believed it
is morally wrong to strip members of a society their basic rights on how it is
run and that people should not have to obtain costs for
themselves in order to spare themselves greater costs in the future (Rawls,
1999). I agree with this as it
is unfair to assume a set of morals for everyone as each person is too
contrasting for a common moral ground to be fair and our opinions are all
subjective.

 

Many of Rawls ideas are based upon
the original thoughts of Kant, who Mill’s mentions in his text as being one of
the main objectors to his theory (Mill, 1998). Kant argued that every human has
inherent worth, and therefore moral law should be law that is self-chosen
(Kant, 2009). This helps to display the major flaw within Mill’s theory of the
injustice shown towards people in regard to setting the moral standard. Kant’s
point shows we should be able to follow our own morals when making decisions
rather than being forced into certain ways of acting. This is because Mill’s
utilitarianism implements a moral guideline which plays the role of deciding on
behalf of others what they do to themselves and how they act in situations,
which is incredibly illiberal and unintuitive. I believe that just because Mill
can show why some situations produce happiness for the majority of people, does
not justify why it should then become a moral code for everyone to follow. We
should not be forced into rejecting our intuitions and feelings about life. Everyone
should have the liberty and freedom to determine their own fate as long as it
does not cause harm to others in the process. Whereas utilitarianism forces
people to simply fall in line and follow a theoretical notion.

 

Mill’s
main ideas came from the concept of hedonism, displayed by Bentham, which is
the idea that pleasures and pain hold the most value in life (Bentham, 1907),
this is shown in Mill’s quote ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend
to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse
of happiness’. This quote displays the thought of Mill’s that we all act
on what makes us happy or what prevents unhappiness which in turn is promoting
pleasure over pain. I believe this is a flaw within Mill’s theory because of
its simplicity. Humans are more complex than just the simple pleasure and pain
idea, we act upon far more complicated reasoning and thought process.
Philosopher Thomas Carlyle also objects to the utilitarian hedonism, he
described it as the ‘philosophy of swine’ (Carlyle, 1850), this is because hedonism
lays out all pleasures as being equal, from simple animalistic pleasures to the
higher pleasures. This was initially an objection to Bentham’s utilitarianism,
which Mill took a lot of his inspiration from.

 

Mill
wanted to address the objection and did so by furthering the concept of higher
and lower pleasures by adding the elements of duration and intensity
(Mill,1998). I find this adaptation to Bentham’s theory problematic. I believe
it is impossible to attempt
to quantify or measure happiness, by comparing happiness to suffering, because
our happiness is an emotion and is inconsistent. It is too difficult to
determine the vast span of scenarios that make us happy and the scenarios that
make us unhappy and then measure the extent or intensity. There are too many contributing factors to allow us
to measure happiness, for example deciding the span of time to measure the
expected total values of happiness against suffering. No one can ever predict
what course of action will maximize happiness. We can only perceive another
person’s happiness, but could never predict what would actually cause it.

 

The two flaws I have addressed
are heavily linked, as attempting to measure happiness is illiberal. Mill puts
emphasise on pleasure and pain but on a broad scale, including everyone. This
causes problems because the theory views everyone as the same. However, everyone’s
pleasures and pains are very subjective to the individual and dependant on the
character and personality of each person. The generalisation of viewing
everyone as the same means the moral guides and rules violate the standards of
justice where everyone has their own rights and opinions. Utilitarianism
forces moral obligation away from the realm of individuals autonomy.

According to Mill’s utilitarianism
we are supposed to choose the action that will produce the most happiness,
instead of following our own moral decisions even if they create a large amount
of happiness (Mill, 1998). A counterexample that displays this point is if
there is a tram heading toward a group of five workers on the tracks and
someone sitting in the control centre several miles away. They have a button
that can switch the tram onto another track where there is only one worker. If
they press the button, one person will die. If they do nothing, five people
will die. To follow Mill’s utilitarianism would be to let the one person die as
it produces the highest amount of happiness with the least amount of pain. However,
what if the one person on the track was the child of the worker in the control
room. This brings into question their own moral judgement and emotions to the
situation, making it difficult to follow the rules of utilitarianism as it
would then bring a massive amount of suffering to the worker in the control
room. This example proves how Mill is wrong in saying ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness,
wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’ (Mill, 1998)
because actions are subjective to the person and cannot be decided by a
generalised, measured guideline.

 

In conclusion, Mill’s theory
of utilitarianism holds many weaknesses due to its illiberal attitude towards
people and our rights. This essay has displayed the two main flaws I found
within his theory which was the unjust neglecting of people’s rights along with
the inability to measure happiness. I strongly disagree with his statement that
‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as
they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’ (Mill, 1998) because it is a
huge generalisation in the respect of people and of everybody’s happiness.
Throughout my essay I have shown how Mill makes assumptions on happiness but I
do not think happiness can be measured and pre-empted, as it is an emotion and
therefore subjective to everybody. Our actions inevitably cause unexpected consequences which cannot be
planned, making his theory
unjust and unfair. Utilitarianism should not be used to set moral standards as
it violates the standards of justice by making the assumption that
suffering can be justified by happiness.