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Lecture 5

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PP110
Professor
Hugh R Alcock
Semester
Fall

Description
 Utilitarianism  John Stuart Mill (1806 - 73)  Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of ethics; based on judging our actions as right or wrong according to whether their consequences are good or bad respectively  Utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory  Suggests norm/standard by which to measure whether our actions are right or wrong  Norm by which judgements are made is their utility (i.e. their good consequences)  For many utilitarians, this utility is understood to be happiness, which John Stuart Mill defines as "pleasure and the absence of pain"  Happiness is the state we ultimately want to be in  Equating happiness with pleasure or with absence of suffering more generally known as "hedonism"  According to hedonistic utilitarianism, then, we ultimately aim to produce a state of pleasure by our actions - this is…  Whose happiness do we aim for by our right actions?  One might assume that it's simply our own happiness that we aim our actions towards  However, this conception of utilitarianism cannot be right - it would imply that I am morally justified in killing my neighbour, for example, if doing so bring me pleasure!  It's counter intuitive  What makes utilitarianism a plausible ethical theory is our thinking of everyone's happiness as being equally important  By this measure, a consequence is good in proportion to the number of people it brings pleasure to as well as the amount of pleasure it might bring to someone  An action, therefore, is right if and only if it leads to the greatest general good possible  This is known as the principle of maximum utility  In other words, if I'm faced with two or more options with respect to my actions, then I am morally obliged to do the one that leads to the greatest amount of pleasure for the most people, i.e., the greatest amount of overall happiness  Thus with respect to sacrifice Mill writes:  A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum of total happiness, it [utilitarianism] considers as wanted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means to happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interest of mankind. (p. 104)  Now acting according to the maximum utility principle may appear to be too demanding  It seems to entail that everything we do must measure up to this noble end, namely, maximising utility  That is absurd; one cannot decide our every mundane actions in this way  Mill agrees; he explains:  "it is the business of ethics… if the rule of duty doses not condemn them." (ibid)  But when do our moral duties end exactly?  Going to buy cinema ticket and pass a charity  Giving money to charity would be an act of supererogation - doing something beyond your moral duty. But how so?  That said, we often think of our consequences being good in ways other than their bringing pleasure  Ex. Paul Gauguin famously abandoned his family to go to Tahiti to paint; arguably did the right thing because consequences of his actions were beautiful paintings  Accordingly some argue that happiness is not only achieved through sensual pleasure, rather it is also achieved through pleasures derived from appreciation of beauty, love, virtue, or knowledge  These pleasures can be considered good in their own right, i.e., intrinsically valuable  Here Mill recognises the distinction between sensual and intellectual pleasures. He writes:  "Now it is an unquestionable fact… allowance of a beast's pleasures…"(p. 99)  Thinking of our actions as being morally justif
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