Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey
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Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey

John Stuart Mill, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Bailey

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eBook - ePub

Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey

John Stuart Mill, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Bailey

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Utilitarianism is a classic work of ethical theory, arguably the most persuasive and comprehensible presentation of this widely influential position. Mill argues that it is pleasure and pain that ought to guide our decision-making&and not the pleasure and pain of any one person or group, but the summative experience of all who are affected by our actions. While he didn't invent utilitarianism, Mill offered its clearest expression and strongest defense, and expanded the theory to account for the variety in quality that we find among specific pleasures and pains. Today, Mill's version of the "Greatest Happiness Principle" is a standard premise in many moral arguments within the academy and in practical ethical and political deliberation.

The complete text of the 1871 edition of Utilitarianism is presented here, with footnote annotations added to clarify unfamiliar references and terminology for the student reader. A detailed introduction by the editor is divided into brief digestible parts discussing the context of the text and offering guidelines on how to read it accurately and critically. This edition has its origin in the acclaimed Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought and adheres to the anthology's format and high standard of accuracy and accessibility.

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Informazioni

Anno
2016
ISBN
9781460405895
Argomento
Filosofía
Categoria
Utilitarismo

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism1

Chapter 1: General Remarks
There are few circumstances among those which make up the present condition of human knowledge, more unlike what might have been expected, or more significant of the backward state in which speculation on the most important subjects still lingers, than the little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong. From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum,2 or, what is the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been accounted the main problem in speculative thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a vigorous warfare against one another. And after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the subject, than when the youth Socrates3 listened to the old Protagoras,4 and asserted (if Plato’s dialogue be grounded on a real conversation5 ) the theory of utilitarianism against the popular morality of the so-called sophist.
It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty, and in some cases similar discordance, exist respecting the first principles of all the sciences, not excepting that which is deemed the most certain of them, mathematics; without much impairing, generally indeed without impairing at all, the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those sciences. An apparent anomaly, the explanation of which is, that the detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first principles. Were it not so, there would be no science more precarious, or whose conclusions were more insufficiently made out, than algebra; which derives none of its certainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements, since these, as laid down by some of its most eminent teachers, are as full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as theology. The truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science, are really the last results of metaphysical analysis, practised on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots to a tree, which may perform their office equally well though they be never dug down to and exposed to light. But though in science the particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary might be expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or legislation. All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the means, one would think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of having already ascertained it.
The difficulty is not avoided by having recourse to the popular theory of a natural faculty, a sense or instinct, informing us of right and wrong. For—besides that the existence of such a moral instinct is itself one of the matters in dispute—those believers in it who have any pretensions to philosophy, have been obliged to abandon the idea that it discerns what is right or wrong in the particular case in hand, as our other senses discern the sight or sound actually present. Our moral faculty, according to all those of its interpreters who are entitled to the name of thinkers, supplies us only with the general principles of moral judgments; it is a branch of our reason, not of our sensitive faculty;6 and must be looked to for the abstract doctrines of morality, not for perception of it in the concrete. The intuitive, no less than what may be termed the inductive, school of ethics, insists on the necessity of general laws. They both agree that the morality of an individual action is not a question of direct perception, but of the application of a law to an individual case. They recognise also, to a great extent, the same moral laws; but differ as to their evidence, and the source from which they derive their authority. According to the one opinion, the principles of morals are evident a priori,7 requiring nothing to command assent, except that the meaning of the terms be understood. According to the other doctrine, right and wrong, as well as truth and falsehood, are questions of observation and experience. But both hold equally that morality must be deduced from principles; and the intuitive school affirm as strongly as the inductive, that there is a science of morals. Yet they seldom attempt to make out a list of the a priori principles which are to serve as the premises of the science; still more rarely do they make any effort to reduce those various principles to one first principle, or common ground of obligation. They either assume the ordinary precepts8 of morals as of a priori authority, or they lay down as the common groundwork of those maxims, some generality much less obviously authoritative than the maxims themselves, and which has never succeeded in gaining popular acceptance. Yet to support their pretensions there ought either to be some one fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality, or if there be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among them; and the one principle, or the rule for deciding between the various principles when they conflict, ought to be self-evident.
To inquire how far the bad effects of this deficiency have been mitigated in practice, or to what extent the moral beliefs of mankind have been vitiated or made uncertain by the absence of any distinct recognition of an ultimate standard, would imply a complete survey and criticism, of past and present ethical doctrine. It would, however, be easy to show that whatever steadiness or consistency these moral beliefs have attained, has been mainly due to the tacit influence of a standard not recognised. Although the non-existence of an acknowledged first principle has made ethics not so much a guide as a consecration of men’s actual sentiments, still, as men’s sentiments, both of favour and of aversion, are greatly influenced by what they suppose to be the effects of things upon their happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham9 latterly called it, the greatest happiness principle, has had a large share in forming the moral doctrines even of those who most scornfully reject its authority. Nor is there any school of thought which refuses to admit that the influence of actions on happiness is a most material and even predominant consideration in many of the details of morals, however unwilling to acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might go much further, and say that to all those a priori moralists who deem it necessary to argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable. It is not my present purpose to criticise these thinkers; but I cannot help referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of Ethics, by Kant.10 This remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the treatise in question, lay down a universal first principle as the origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this: “So act, that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings.” But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.
On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of the other theories, attempt to contribute something towards the understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and towards such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved to be good by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove that health is good? The art of music is good, for the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the cognisance11 of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.
We shall examine presently of what nature are these considerations; in what manner they apply to the case, and what rational grounds, therefore, can be given for accepting or rejecting the utilitarian formula. But it is a preliminary condition of rational acceptance or rejection, that the formula should be correctly understood. I believe that the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed of its meaning, is the chief obstacle which impedes its reception; and that could it be cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions, the question would be greatly simplified, and a large proportion of its difficulties removed. Before, therefore, I attempt to enter into the philosophical grounds which can be given for assenting to the utilitarian standard, I shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine itself; with the view of showing more clearly what it is, distinguishing it from what it is not, and disposing of such of the practical objections to it as either originate in, or are closely connected with, mistaken interpretations of its meaning. Having thus prepared the ground, I shall afterwards endeavour to throw such light as I can upon the question, considered as one of philosophical theory.
_____________________
1 Utilitarianism was first published in 1861 as a series of three essays in volume 64 of Fraser’s Magazine. It was first published as a book in 1863; this text is from the fourth edition, published in 1871 (by Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer), the last to be printed in Mill’s lifetime.
2 Latin: “The highest good”: that thing which is an end-in-itself, which gives everything else its value, and the achievement of which is (arguably) the goal of an ethical system. Candidates for the “highest good” might be—indeed, historically have been—pleasure, human flourishing, the rational comprehension of reality, or God.
3 Socrates (469–399 BCE) was a highly influential philosopher from Athens who—particularly through his great impact on Plato—is often thought to be the main originator of the western philosophical tradition. He wrote nothing himself but appears as a character in nearly all of Plato’s dialogues.
4 Protagoras (c. 490–c. 420 BCE) was the greatest of the Sophist philosophers—itinerant teachers of rhetoric and practical philosophy—and is most famous for his doctrine that “Man is the measure of all things,” which is usually interpreted as an extreme form of relativism.
5 Mill first read this dialogue—called the Protagoras—during the “more advanced” period of his education (after he had reached the age of 12). It is questionable whether Socrates does indeed put forward utilitarianism in that dialogue (and almost certain that he was not himself a utilitarian). Mill, however, was always anxious to portray utilitarianism as a doctrine already widespread in the history of philosophy (and especially in ancient Greek philosophy: in On Liberty, for example, he describes Aristotle’s ethics as “judicious utilitarianism”).
6 Mill means our faculty of sensation.
7 That which is evident a priori is obviously true, independent of any actual experience. (“A priori” means knowable prior to experience.)
8 A precept is an instruction or command prescribing a particular course of action (such as “always tell the truth” or “do not commit adultery”).
9 Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) was an English philosopher of law and ethics who is usually thought of as the founder of utilitarianism, which he intended as a coherent and sensible foundation for the large-scale reform of social and legal policy. His main theoretical work was An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in 1789 (chapters 1 and 4 of which are included in this edition), and it is in this book that the Greatest Happiness Principle was first clearly formulated and defended. It was while reading a French edition of Bentham’s Principles of Morals in 1821 that, according to Mill’s autobiography, he was permanently “converted” to utilitarianism.
10 Mill is actually thinking of Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).
11 Sphere of concern or awareness.
Chapter 2: What Utilitarianism Is
A passing remark is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder of supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure. An apology is due to the philosophical opponents of utilitarianism, for even the momentary appearance of confounding them with any one capable of so absurd a misconception; which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the contrary accusation, of referring everything to pleasure, and that too in its grossest form, is another of the common charges against utilitarianism: and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer,1 the same sort of persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the theory “as impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word pleasure, and as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure precedes the word utility.” Those who know anything about the matter are aware that every writer, from Epicurus2 to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility, meant by it, not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain; and instead of opposing the useful to the agreeable or the ornamental, have always declared that the useful means these, among other things. Yet the common herd, including the herd of writers, not only in newspapers and periodicals, but in books of weight and pretension, are perpetually falling into this shallow mistake. Having caught up the word utilitarian, while knowing nothing whatever about it but its sound, they habitually express by it the rejection, or the neglect, of pleasure in some of its forms; of beauty, of ornament, or of amusement. Nor is the term thus ignorantly misapplied solely in disparagement, but occasionally in compliment; as though it implied superiority to frivolity and the mere pleasures of the moment. And this perverted use is the only one in which the word is popularly known, and the one from which the new generation are acquiring their sole notion of its meaning. Those who introduced the word, but who had for many years discontinued it as a distinctive appellation, may well feel themselves called upon to resume it, if by doing so they can hope to contribute anything towards rescuing it from this utter degradation.3
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. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded—namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.
Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure—no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit—they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period, contemptuously likened;4 and modern holders of the doctrine are occasionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its German, French, and English assailants.
When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid,5 but would then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of pleasure were precisely the same to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which is good enough for the one would be good enough for the other. The comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification. I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in drawing out their scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic,6 as well as Christian elements require to be included. But there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former—that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity al...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Introduction
  6. Utilitarianism
  7. Appendix: from Jeremy Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Stili delle citazioni per Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey

APA 6 Citation

Mill, J. S. (2016). Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey ([edition unavailable]). Broadview Press. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2030606/utilitarianism-ed-bailey-pdf (Original work published 2016)

Chicago Citation

Mill, John Stuart. (2016) 2016. Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey. [Edition unavailable]. Broadview Press. https://www.perlego.com/book/2030606/utilitarianism-ed-bailey-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Mill, J. S. (2016) Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey. [edition unavailable]. Broadview Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2030606/utilitarianism-ed-bailey-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism - Ed. Bailey. [edition unavailable]. Broadview Press, 2016. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.