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    "All desirable things...are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain."

    Utilitarianism is an ethical idea that suggest actions should maximize happiness and well-being for everyone involved. In simpler terms, it promotes doing what benefits the most people. Jeremy Bentham, who founded utilitarianism, defined utility as actions that bring benefit, pleasure, or prevent harm and unhappiness. It's a type of consequentialism, which judges actions by their outcomes. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all people equally.

    There are different versions of utilitarianism, such as act utilitarianism, which focuses on the results of individual actions, and rule utilitarianism, which looks at rules that maximize happiness overall. There's also debate about whether total happiness or average happiness should be maximized. The idea of maximizing happiness has roots in ancient philosophies, including the hedonism of Aristippus and Epicurus, and the consequentialism of Chinese philosopher Mozi. Modern utilitarianism began with Bentham and was developed further by philosophers like John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, R. M. Hare, and Peter Singer.

    Utilitarianism has been applied to various areas, such as social welfare economics, questions of justice, global poverty, animal ethics, and avoiding risks to humanity.

    Beliefs[edit | edit source]

    Principle of Utility[edit | edit source]

    Bentham's work begins with the principle of utility, which states that humans are guided by two main factors: pain and pleasure. According to this principle, every action should be judged based on whether it increases or decreases happiness. This applies to actions by individuals as well as decisions made by governments.

    Hedonic Calculus[edit | edit source]

    Bentham introduces a method called the hedonic calculus to measure the value of pleasures and pains. According to this method, the intensity, duration, certainty, and proximity of a pleasure or pain should be considered. Additionally, we should look at the likelihood that an action will lead to similar feelings in the future (fecundity) and whether it might avoid opposite feelings (purity). Lastly, we must consider how many people will be affected by the action.

    Evils of the First and Second Order[edit | edit source]

    The question then arises as to when, if at all, it might be legitimate to break the law. This is considered in The Theory of Legislation, where Bentham distinguishes between evils of the first and second order. Those of the first order are the more immediate consequences; those of the second are when the consequences spread through the community causing "alarm" and "danger".

    It is true there are cases in which, if we confine ourselves to the effects of the first order, the good will have an incontestable preponderance over the evil. Were the offence considered only under this point of view, it would not be easy to assign any good reasons to justify the rigour of the laws. Every thing depends upon the evil of the second order; it is this which gives to such actions the character of crime, and which makes punishment necessary. Let us take, for example, the physical desire of satisfying hunger. Let a beggar, pressed by hunger, steal from a rich man's house a loaf, which perhaps saves him from starving, can it be possible to compare the good which the thief acquires for himself, with the evil which the rich man suffers?... It is not on account of the evil of the first order that it is necessary to erect these actions into offences, but on account of the evil of the second order.[27]

    Sub-Philosophies[edit | edit source]

    Classical Utilitarianism[edit | edit source]

    Classical utilitarianism is the view that one morally ought to promote just the sum total of happiness over suffering.

    Act and Rule Utilitarianism[edit | edit source]

    Act utilitarianism evaluates the morality of each individual action based on its consequences. According to this approach, an action is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of overall happiness or utility for the greatest number of people affected by the action. Act utilitarianism emphasizes the importance of considering the specific circumstances and potential outcomes of each individual action when making ethical decisions.

    Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, focuses on evaluating the morality of actions based on general rules or principles rather than individual acts. According to rule utilitarianism, an action is morally right if it conforms to a rule that, if followed consistently, would lead to the greatest overall happiness or utility. This approach places emphasis on the importance of having a set of rules that, when universally applied, would maximize overall happiness.

    Preference Utilitarianism[edit | edit source]

    Preference utilitarianism is a variant of utilitarianism that places emphasis on maximizing the satisfaction of individual preferences or desires. It considers the overall well-being of individuals by prioritizing the fulfillment of their personal preferences rather than solely focusing on happiness or pleasure.

    Negative Utilitarianism[edit | edit source]

    Negative utilitarianism can be described as the view that people should minimize the total amount of aggregate suffering, or that they should minimize suffering and then, secondarily, maximize the total amount of happiness. It can be considered as a version of utilitarianism that gives greater priority to reducing suffering (negative utility or 'disutility') than to increasing pleasure (positive utility).

    Personal Variants[edit | edit source]

    Millism[edit | edit source]

    Millism describes the beliefs of the 19th century philosopher, political economist and Member of Parliament, John Stuart Mill. He believes that the individual ought to be free to do as they wish unless they cause harm to others, individuals are rational enough to make decisions about their well being, and that it is not a crime to harm oneself as long as the person doing so is not harming others. He favours the Harm Principle: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a Civilized Community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” He excuses those who are “incapable of self-government" from this principle, such as young children or those living in "backward states of society". He believes that "harms" may include acts of omission as well as acts of commission. Thus, failing to rescue a drowning child counts as a harmful act, as does failing to pay taxes, or failing to appear as a witness in court. He opposed slavery and supported Feminism and animal rights, and JS Mill can be considered among the earliest male proponents of gender equality.

    A System of Logic[edit | edit source]

    Mill participated in the scientific method debate sparked by John Herschel's 1830 publication, which emphasized inductive reasoning and empirical verification. William Whewell expanded on this, presenting induction as the mind applying concepts to facts. He viewed laws as self-evident truths.

    In 1843, Mill published "A System of Logic," countering Whewell's ideas. Mill proposed "Mill's Methods" of induction, emphasizing observation and empirical verification for discovering laws. Scholars note similarities between Mill's approach and Dignāga's analysis, suggesting possible influence from Indian logic during Mill's stay in India.

    Theory of Liberty[edit | edit source]

    In Mill's book "On Liberty" (1859), he explores the boundaries of society's power over individuals. He argues that society should only interfere with people's actions to prevent harm to others, not to impose its own ideas of what is good for them. This principle is known as the Principle of Liberty.

    According to Mill, society can only intervene to prevent harm to others, not to promote individuals' well-being. He also discusses the concept of harm, including both actions and omissions that cause harm. For example, not helping a drowning child or failing to pay taxes can be considered harmful. Mill distinguishes between self-regarding actions, which don't harm others and should not be regulated, and harmful actions that may be subject to regulation. He also addresses the limits of consent, arguing that society should not allow individuals to sell themselves into slavery.

    Overall, Mill's ideas on liberty emphasize the importance of individual freedom and limiting society's power over individuals.

    Social Liberty and Tyranny of Majority[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that throughout history, the struggle between Liberty and Authority was very noticeable. He saw liberty in ancient times as a battle between people and their rulers. For Mill, social liberty meant being protected from the control of political leaders. He identified different forms of tyranny, like social tyranny and tyranny of the majority. Social liberty, according to Mill, involved restricting the ruler's power so they couldn't make decisions that harmed society. He argued that people should have a say in government decisions, and this was achieved through political liberties and constitutional checks.

    But Mill thought limiting government power wasn't enough. He believed society itself could be oppressive if it imposed wrong rules or meddled in matters it shouldn't. This, he said, could be worse than political oppression because it affects people deeply and leaves them with fewer options to escape.

    Liberty[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that people should be free to do what they want unless it harms others. He trusted individuals to make choices for their own well-being. He thought government should only step in to protect society.

    Mill stated that the only reason for interfering with someone's freedom is to prevent harm to others. He emphasized that individuals shouldn't be forced to act in certain ways just because it might be better for them or make them happier. People are only accountable to society for their actions if those actions affect others. Otherwise, individuals have complete freedom over their own body and mind.

    Freedom of Speech[edit | edit source]

    Mill's "On Liberty" strongly defends free speech, seeing it as crucial for intellectual and social progress. He argues that even opinions we disagree with might hold some truth, and debating them helps us refine our understanding. Mill believes that allowing false opinions to be expressed is beneficial because it prompts people to examine and justify their own beliefs, preventing them from becoming rigid dogma. He criticizes censorship, arguing that nobody has the right to decide what others can or cannot hear, even if they think their own beliefs are unquestionably true. Mill emphasizes that open debate is essential for discovering truth and fostering personal growth, creativity, and diversity of thought. He sees freedom of speech as vital for a healthy society and democracy, allowing for robust public debate and challenging the status quo.

    Harm Principle[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that freedom of speech could only benefit society if it was culturally and institutionally advanced enough to handle progressive improvement. He argued that even harmful or wrong arguments should not be suppressed, as the public would naturally reject them if they were truly harmful. However, expressions that directly cause harm to others should be restricted. This is known as the harm principle, which states that power can only be used to prevent harm to others.

    In the early 20th century, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. introduced the "clear and present danger" standard, inspired by Mill's ideas. This standard assesses whether speech poses an immediate and serious threat of harm that can be lawfully prevented. For example, falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater creates a clear danger and could be restricted.

    Many democratic countries now follow Mill's principles, implementing laws guided by the harm principle. While free speech is generally protected, there are exceptions for speech that incites violence, spreads lies about individuals, disrupts public order, or uses offensive language.

    Freedom of the Press[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that the argument for press freedom was already settled in mid-19th-century Britain, as few people wanted to return to past censorship methods. However, he warned about potential new forms of censorship emerging in the future. Indeed, in 2013, the Cameron Tory government in the UK proposed establishing an independent official regulator for the press, sparking calls for stronger legal protection of press freedom. A new British Bill of Rights could include provisions similar to the US Constitution, preventing government interference with press freedom and other attempts to control freedom of expression.

    Colonialism[edit | edit source]

    Mill, who worked for the East India Company from 1823 to 1858, supported what he called "benevolent despotism" for administering overseas colonies. He argued that different rules should apply between civilized nations and barbarians. Mill believed that British colonialism, especially in India, was beneficial, calling it "a blessing" for the Indian population. He also backed settler colonialism. While he generally supported Company rule in India, he had some reservations about specific Company policies there.

    Slavery and Racial Equality[edit | edit source]

    In 1850, Mill wrote an anonymous letter titled "The Negro Question" in response to Thomas Carlyle's support for slavery. Mill strongly opposed slavery, expressing his views further in his essay "The Subjection of Women" in 1869. He believed in racial equality and corresponded extensively with John Appleton, an American legal reformer, on this topic. Mill supported complete emancipation for slaves and advocated for their integration into society, emphasizing education and land ownership.

    During the American Civil War, Mill sided with the Union, seeing it as a necessary step to abolish slavery and preserve liberal ideals. He criticized those who claimed the war was not about slavery and argued that the Southern states were fighting to defend slavery, not for other reasons like tariffs. Mill believed that defeating the Confederacy would eradicate the stain of slavery from the United States and promote equality for all citizens.

    Women's Rights[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that until his time, most women and many men were like slaves, subjected to legal subordination based on gender. He argued strongly for gender equality, which he saw as crucial for human progress. His book "The Subjection of Women" is one of the earliest written by a man on this topic.

    Mill proposed a state-sponsored universal education system that would benefit marginalized groups, especially women. He believed education could empower individuals, giving them independence and agency, and help society by reducing overpopulation. He also criticized societal norms and laws that oppressed women, advocating for changes in marriage, education, and social constructs. As a Member of Parliament, he even tried to change the word "man" to "person" in legislation to promote gender-neutral language.

    Utilitarianism[edit | edit source]

    Mill's utilitarianism, heavily influenced by Jeremy Bentham and his father James Mill, holds that actions are right if they promote happiness and wrong if they lead to unhappiness. Happiness means intended pleasure and the absence of pain, while unhappiness refers to pain and the absence of pleasure. Mill's version emphasizes the greatest-happiness principle, aiming to maximize overall happiness among all sentient beings.

    Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory, meaning it judges actions based on their outcomes. Mill argues that happiness is the ultimate goal of human action and that people naturally seek their own happiness unless they see that making others happy would be better overall. He suggests that utilitarianism is the default moral framework for most people.

    Some see utilitarianism as a more comprehensive ethical theory than Immanuel Kant's focus on goodwill. While Kant emphasizes reasoning guided by goodwill, Mill believes that considering the consequences of actions is essential for creating fair laws and systems. Utilitarianism prioritizes achieving the greatest good for the greatest number by weighing the positive and negative outcomes of actions.

    Higher and Lower Pleasures[edit | edit source]

    Mill's main addition to utilitarianism is his idea of qualitative differences in pleasures. Unlike Bentham, who sees all happiness as equal, Mill argues that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to physical ones. He famously said, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." This reflects his belief that higher pleasures, like those from intellect and morality, are more valuable than lower, more physical pleasures.

    For Mill, happiness is the ultimate goal. He defines higher pleasures as mental, moral, and aesthetic, while lower pleasures are more sensational. He argues that higher pleasures should be prioritized because they bring greater quality and virtue. He also believes that active pleasures are better than passive ones. Mill's idea contrasts with Bentham's view that, if the pleasure is the same, it doesn't matter where it comes from. Mill argues that people who have experienced both types of pleasure tend to prefer higher ones. He believes that those who contribute to society, like nobles or philosophers, bring more happiness overall than those who pursue selfish pleasures.

    In summary, Mill's contribution to utilitarianism lies in his distinction between higher and lower pleasures, with a focus on promoting the greatest happiness for society as a whole.

    Chapters[edit | edit source]

    Mill divides his explanation of Utilitarianism into five parts:

    • General Remarks: Here, Mill discusses the challenges of determining right from wrong and whether moral instinct truly exists. He believes that our moral sense only provides general principles of moral judgment.
    • What Utilitarianism Is: Mill defines utilitarianism as the "greatest happiness principle," which means actions are right if they promote happiness and wrong if they lead to unhappiness or pain. He emphasizes that seeking pleasure is not animalistic but a way of using our higher faculties, and happiness should benefit the community, not just individuals.
    • The Utilitarian Conscience: Mill defends the idea of a strong utilitarian conscience, where people desire to be happy and care about others' happiness. Internal sanctions, like guilt, motivate us to act in ways that promote happiness for ourselves and others.
    • Proof of Utility: Mill argues that the only proof of something bringing pleasure is if someone finds it pleasurable. He discusses how morality contributes to happiness and how utilitarianism promotes virtue for its own sake.
    • Connection with Justice: Mill explores the relationship between utilitarianism and justice, concluding that justice is essential for utility in some cases but not in others. He believes that social duty sometimes outweighs justice.

    Additionally, Mill believes that happiness should be understood in relation to humanity's progress, emphasizing the development of rational capacities and the rejection of censorship and paternalism to promote knowledge and rationality. In summary, Mill sees happiness as the ultimate goal, but he doesn't believe we're morally obligated to always maximize happiness. Instead, he advocates for actions that promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number while considering individual rights and social duties.

    Achieving Happiness[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that for most people, happiness is best found naturally rather than pursued directly. This means not overthinking or analyzing it but simply enjoying life's moments. If circumstances are favorable, happiness comes effortlessly, like breathing air.

    Economics[edit | edit source]

    Mill initially supported free markets but believed in interventions if they served the greater good, like taxes on alcohol or for animal welfare. He thought progressive taxation was unfair as it penalized hard work and savings, calling it a form of robbery. He believed inheritance should be taxed to maintain equality and favored charities that helped the needy. Later, influenced by socialist ideas and his wife Harriet Taylor, he advocated for a more socialist approach, proposing the abolition of the wage system and advocating for restrictions on unearned incomes. His book Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1848, became a standard text in economics, replacing Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations at Oxford University until 1919.

    Economic Democracy[edit | edit source]

    Mill objected to socialism mainly because he believed it would eliminate competition, which he saw as essential for progress. While he supported some socialist goals, like equality, he disagreed with the anti-competition stance. He emphasized equal opportunity and meritocracy, where people succeed based on their abilities. He suggested that a socialist society could be achieved through universal education and promoting economic democracy, such as replacing capitalist businesses with worker-owned cooperatives. He believed that the ideal association would involve workers collectively owning and managing capital.

    Political Democracy[edit | edit source]

    Mill's book on democracy, "Considerations on Representative Government," supports two key ideas: active citizen participation and capable rulers. Some see him as favoring elite rule, while others view him as promoting participatory democracy. He once suggested giving more votes to competent citizens but later rejected this idea. However, he strongly believed in involving all citizens in politics, especially at the local level, to overcome any lack of knowledge or skill.

    Mill, unlike many philosophers, served in government for three years. Despite his radical writings, he showed a willingness to compromise. He advocated for public education for the working class, seeing it as essential for individual empowerment. He believed education could develop qualities like autonomy, creativity, and responsibility, making citizens better informed and able to make wise choices in elections. He thought education could bridge class divides, giving everyone a fair chance to succeed.

    When it came to higher education, Mill argued for a liberal approach over religious or scientific focus. In his 1867 St. Andrews Address, he urged educated elites to support education policies based on liberal principles.

    Wealth and Income Distribution[edit | edit source]

    In his book "Principles of Political Economy," Mill discussed two main economic topics: the laws of production and wealth, and how wealth is distributed. He argued that we can't change the laws of production but can use them to create the outcomes we want. When it comes to distributing wealth, Mill saw individual property as the key institution. He believed everyone should start with equal ownership of resources and then be free to work without state interference. To address wealth inequality, Mill proposed three tax policies:

    • A fair income tax.
    • An inheritance tax.
    • Limits on excessive spending.

    Inheritance often leads to inequality, so Mill suggested higher taxes on inheritances to reduce this disparity. He saw taxation as a crucial tool for promoting equality.

    Environment[edit | edit source]

    In his book "Principles of Political Economy," Mill talked about a concept called the "Stationary State." He saw beyond just material wealth and understood that unlimited growth could harm the environment and reduce our quality of life. He suggested that reaching a point where economic growth stops, called the stationary state, might be better than endless growth. He hoped that people would choose to stop growing before it became necessary for the sake of future generations.

    Rate of Profit[edit | edit source]

    Mill believed that over time, the rate of profit in an economy would naturally go down because of two main factors: first, agricultural productivity would decrease as land becomes less productive, and second, the population would grow faster than the economy could keep up, following a pattern described by Thomas Malthus.

    Criticism[edit | edit source]

    Criticism of Utilitarianism or just Anti-Utilitarianism is a critique of Utilitarianism. The most well-known example is the French intellectual movement called Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales.

    Personality[edit | edit source]

    Utilitarianism always wants the best for everyone.

    How to Draw[edit | edit source]

    Relationships[edit | edit source]

    Friends[edit | edit source]

    Frenemies[edit | edit source]

    • Hedonism - Why do you only care about your own happiness?

    Enemies[edit | edit source]

    • Egoism - You only care about yourself.

    Quotes[edit | edit source]

    "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" — Jeremy Bentham

    "Granted that any practice causes more pain to animals than it gives pleasure to man; is that practice moral or immoral? And if, exactly in proportion as human beings raise their heads out of the slough of selfishness, they do not with one voice answer 'immoral', let the morality of the principle of utility be for ever condemned." — John Stuart Mill

    "No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy." — Herbert Spencer

    "We have next to consider who the 'all' are, whose happiness is to be taken into account. Are we to extend our concern to all the beings capable of pleasure and pain whose feelings are affected by our conduct? or are we to confine our view to human happiness? The former view is the one adopted by Bentham and Mill, and (I believe) by the Utilitarian school generally: and is obviously most in accordance with the universality that is characteristic of their principle … it seems arbitrary and unreasonable to exclude from the end, as so conceived, any pleasure of any sentient being." — Henry Sidgwick

    "The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is the same in each case … Most human beings are speciesists." — Peter Singer

    Further Info[edit | edit source]

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    Theorists[edit | edit source]

    Literature[edit | edit source]

    Online Communities[edit | edit source]


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