Utilitarianism And Specification Of Good Philosophy

Essay add: 29-10-2015, 10:16   /   Views: 350

John Stuart Mill, a 19th century British philosopher, promulgated and defended Jeremy Bentham's theory of utilitarianism, who was a political philosopher during the 18th century. In his book titled 'Introduction to the principles of morals and legislation principle', Bentham argues that the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined ultimately by utility, or purposefulness, whereby being the amount of pleasure being maximised as 'the ends justify the means'. Bentham's axiom 'the greatest good for the greatest number' brings about an equivocal nature of basing morality, as who is to decide after all, that the 'greatest number' necessarily takes precedent over the minority, therefore being able to acquire the 'greatest good'.

Mill defended the premise of 'good as the maximising of pleasure' more evidently in his work 'Utilitarianism'. Mill developed Bentham's act utilitarianism into rule utilitarianism, whereby seeing the flaw that although both being teleological, act utilitarianism measured by the hedonic calculus, which took into account certain variables like duration, intensity, purity amongst other variables had within its framework set up a system where ethical views from person's were contradictive due to certain conditions that arise when applying act utilitarianism, thereby causing controversy of the specification of the good.

In terms of controversy, a 19th century British law case 'The Queen v Dudley & Stephens'. To summarise the case goes as follows; four crew members, Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks and an orphan 17 year old Richard Parker were sailing on the Mignonette, a yacht, when it was struck by a wave to which the crew left and boarded the lifeboat managing to retrieve two tin of turnips only. They survived on turnips and a turtle until on the nineteenth day Dudley, the captain proposed to draw lots to see who will be sacrificed to save the others, borrowing from utilitarianism, 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. Dudley, the next day along with Stephens spoke to parker, offering a prayer before murdering and devouring the orphan. Eventually, the three men were rescued and upon returning to England faced charges of murder. Dudley and Stephens argued to their defence that they were driven to murder through necessity, as mentioned in their defence "better that one could die in order to save three", the prosecutor who stood for categorical moral principles was not persuaded by this argument and remained that murder is murder, even if to save the lives of the three.

Good as maximising pleasure, brings about the idea of wider effects matter, that the sum total of pleasure and pain incorporated by an act, gives the total values of its consequences. As utilitarianism is more concerned by the outcome of an action rather than the motives behind an action, this can be seen as a weakness as it fails to respect minority rights as illustrated in the Queen v Dudley and Stephens's case. Also, it is not possible to sum up a value, that of a human in terms of a 'single uniformed matter'.

'On Liberty', published in 1859 alongside Mill's other works, stated that moral systems have to take be it collective, or individual pain and suffering into account. By adding up all the benefits and subtracting all of the costs, the right thing to do would be 'to maximise the balance between happiness and suffering', hence maximising utility. This then raises controversy as to how one decides which costs and benefits to take into account as well as the matter of calculating them.

Rule utilitarianism sets it apart from act utilitarianism as Mill set up a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Where Bentham was more focused on quantity, 'the quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry', Mill focused on quality '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 are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question'. In light of this statement, one can construe that Mill is no longer operating within the initial framework of utility as set up by Bentham, as the idea of 'higher pleasures' for him are that, which engage the person in 'higher faculties', that have within it love, knowledge, justice and beauty. For example it is a 'higher pleasure' according to Mill to listen to a symphony by Mozart, or reading Shakespeare then to play football, as the latter does not engage a person into a 'higher faculty' of understanding, as Mill points out, 'pleasure of the mind is higher than those of the body and are preferred'.

Mill postulated that to derive a distinction between higher and lower pleasures, the only test to distinguish between the two, is that if someone has experienced both, than naturally they will prefer the highest pleasure as it takes precedent; '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, than that is the more desirable pleasure'.

As for the objections to utilitarianism, Mill refuted the main concerns of critics that said it failed to respect the rights of the minority. Mill defended that the utilitarian calculus could extend its apparent breaches in addressing the concerns of individual rights and the distinction between higher and lower pleasure. He saw it as a major misconception of utilitarianism that it does not respect individual rights. 'On Liberty' defended the importance of individual and minority rights as they are worthy of respect and take precedent above all other things. Such ideas of paramount importance of the individual, as emphasised in Mill's 'Utilitarianism', and for what Mill argues as 'qualitative higher pleasures' as well as the intrinsic value of a person, be it even the minority, are sacred. Mill's egalitarian approach reinforces his belief in individual rights, setting it apart from Bentham, and in a way strengthening the 'maximising of pleasure'.

In the long run, Mill contended that if society is to benefit from 'maximising the good', justice is the 'chief part and most binding part' of morality. Utilitarianism overlooks the corrupt nature of mankind. For example, a utilitarian will make his own case, dismissing categorical moral principles as illustrated in the shipwrecked case, therefore being able to justify guidelines by stating a given action maximises the good. Mill dismisses this criticism and states that utilitarianism does not hold a monopoly over this criticism and that all philosophical, moral doctrines have exceptions to rules. As put by Mill, 'having a standard for utility to invoke is better than no standard at all'. Although, in objection to Mills' suppositions that if all variables are taken into account, if this leads to the belief that individual's have intrinsic value, and if this reason matters then it seems that even Mill's utilitarianism can take account of it.

Article name: Utilitarianism And Specification Of Good Philosophy essay, research paper, dissertation