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John Stuart Mill: The Ethical Background of Utilitarianism 4/9J.S. Mill, “What Utilitarianism Is”; On Liberty, Editor’s IntroductionJ.S. Mill: Biographical Background• Born new London, 1806• Father, James, was a political reformer and close friend of Jeremy Bentham, an early utilitarian thinker• Mill’s upbringing and education were experiments in rationalistic conditioning• Held high positions in the East India Company• Retired, suffered mental breakdown• After recovery, began to write and served in Parliament• In writing and politics, fought for liberal reform and the rights of women• Died 1873• An empiricist (much like Hobbes)o There are no ‘innate ideas’o The contents of our minds are composed of out of the raw data of the senses• An ethical naturalisto There are objective moral principles, which can be understood scientificallyo Yet these have their source in our nature, not in divine or religious commands• A psychological and ethical individualisto We are each the best judges of our own interests and happinessFrom the 18th to the 19th Century• Technological Change: Industrial Revolution and growth of modern science• Economic Change: industry and commerce overtook agriculture as the economic cornerstone• Class Change: feudal classes of landowner and peasant gave way to industrial classes of capitalist and wage laborer• Political Change: progressive political reform; expansion of suffrage; growth of representative democracyConsequentialism• A family of moral theories which maintaino That the moral worth or status of an action is a function of the consequences of the actiono That no action is good or bad in itselfSome Other Moral Theories• Absolutism: actions are right or wrong either prior to, or irrespective of, their consequenceso Plato’s moral realist theory: actions are right or wrong in themselves, according to whether go with or against the objective moral order of the worldo Natural Law Theory (e. g. Thomas Aquinas or John Locke): maintains that an action is good or bad, right or wrong, in virtue of its conformity with or opposition to Natural Law (which is given by God)o Deontological moral theory (e.g. Immanuel Kant): an action is right or wrong in virtue of its conformity with or opposition to a universalizable law announcing a dutyConsequentialism, cont.• Morality does not consist of a list of approved and forbidden actions—rather, actions are generally good or bad because they generally have good or bad consequences• There may be unusual cases in which, e.g., stealing or adultery could have on-balance good consequencesUtilitarianism• Consequentialism requires a metric with which to measure ‘good’ or ‘bad’ consequences—‘utility’ is such a metric• Utilitarians generally fall into two groups:o Hedonistic: Utility defined as ‘pleasure’ in the simple sense of the gratification of an immediate passion; differences between pleasures/pains are only matters of intensity and duration “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point what we ought to do, as well as to define what we shall do[…] They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.” (Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation) Eudaimonistic: Utility defined as ‘happiness’ in a more elevated and expansive sense, implying some kind of human flourishing beyond mere pleasure• Mill’s view recognizes that happiness is a matter of individual experience—my happiness might differ in its source from yoursThe Greatest Happiness Principle• “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.” (p. 137)• One’s utility consists in one’s pleasure/happiness minus one’s pain/unhappiness• Thus utility can be maximized both by increasing happiness and by reducing sufferingAn Order of Faculties and Satisfactions• The ingredients of happiness will vary from person to person—but, for every human being, some kinds or ingredients of happiness have greater value than others• “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they know only their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” (p. 140)Altruism and Qualified Egoism• The measure of the morality of my actions is not merely how effectively they contribute to my individual happiness, but also how effectively my actions contribute to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of persons.• “The utilitarian morality does not recognize in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers wasted.” (p. 148)• Discounting happiness: my happiness justifiably comes first in my own calculations and choices, but my happiness is not all that matters (qualified egoism)Act Utilitarianism v. Rule Utilitarianism• Act Utilitarianism: each individual action should be guided by calculations of the utility of likely outcomeso The purest form of utilitarianism, but almost impossible for a person to follow in real life• Rule Utilitarianism: individuals should follow the rules of decision and conduct that are most likely to maximize utilityo More practicable, and looks more like our ordinary senses of what is right and wrongMeasuring Social Utility: Aggregate, Average, and Hybrids• Aggregate Utility: the simple arithmetic sum of the utility of all the members of a society• Average Utility: aggregate utility divided by the number of persons in society• Hybrid Measures: assess the distribution of utility by taking demographic or others factors into account• Regardless of the measure used, utilitarianism may assess the goodness of society as well as the moral worth of individuals and individual actionsThe Case for Liberty 4/16 Utilitarianism ∙ A consequentialist moral theory∙ How to measure utility?o Hedonism: utility = pleasureo Eudaimonism: utility = happiness∙

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Virginia Tech PSCI 2014 - The Ethical Background of Utilitarianism

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