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Utilitarianism: J. S. Mills Moral Theory

Heather Bradley

Grand Canyon University: PHI - 305

May 18, 2014


Utilitarianism: J. S. Mill's Moral Theory

John Stewart Mill was a supporter of utilitarianism as a moral theory. Mill describes utilitarianism as a concept constructed on the theory that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness" (Mill & Crisp, 1998, p. 34). Mill describes happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. He contends that pleasure can vary in quality and quantity, and that pleasures which come from an individual's advanced abilities must be given more priority than immoral pleasures (Mill & Crisp, 1998). Additionally, Mill states that an individual's attainment of aspirations and goals, like living virtuously, must be considered as a piece of their happiness (Scarre, 2002). Mill argues that utilitarianism works with "natural sentiments that originate from all human's social nature" (Scarre, 2002, p.

218). Thus, if society did accept utilitarianism as a moral belief, people would inherently adopt these principles as an ethical obligation, a moral requirement. While Mill supported his moral theory of utilitarianism wholeheartedly, it has been criticized for numerous reasons. Some of Mill's ideals are more valuable and beneficial than others.

The basic idea of utilitarianism revolves around the greatest happiness principle, which states that "actions are considered moral when they promote utility, or pleasure with the absence of pain, and immoral when they promote the reverse" (California State University, n.d.). Every person's happiness has equal value. Mill believed that happiness was the only source of goodness, and that above all humans desire happiness. He backs this theory by pointing out that each thing a person may desire, it is because they believe it will lead to happiness (Scarre, 2002).