Mill and Theories of happiness
Very roughly, the rightness of an action is determined by how other people are treated. While the
good relates to how we lead our own life and whether we are happy.
Theories of happiness or the good life are attempts to answer in a systematic way the question,
“what is responsible for making happy people happy?”
1) Informed desire theories of happiness.
Def: A person is happy the greater the quantity of their satisfied desires.
Case for Case against
Everyone cares and are motivated to satisfy Misinformed desires (the creep)
their desires (non-alienation) Irresistible desires a person does not want to
have satisfied (marry the creep)
Now for then desires (desires as a child as
compared to an adult)
(Fully Informed Desire Theory – a patch of the theory) A person’s good is to have satisfied the
desires they would want to have satisfied in their current situation when: (i) they have all the
relevant facts and information, (ii) their desires are desires they want to have satisfied, (iii) when
they assign equal importance to each stage of their lives.
2) Hedonist theories of a persons good
A person is happy the greater the quantity of pleasure their life contains. No qualitative
distinctions between kinds of pleasures.
Case for Case against
Facts about pleasure are objective and Pleasant experiences are not all that matters
insensitive to some psychological deficiencies
example desire to date the creep
Fixes trivial desires
3) III. Mill and The ‘higher’ pleasure theory of a person’s good
Def’n Perfectionism: a person cannot be truly happy unless their capacities for human excellence
i) Two Kinds of Pleasure
"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 alone."
ii) The competent judge test for Identifying Higher Pleasures:
The way to determine whether a pleasure is qualitatively superior is with reference to competent
Higher pleasures are the pleasures that require the exercise of the faculties found in normal adult
human beings (e.g. powers of reasoning, aesthetic appreciation).
Pojman’s discussion of utilitarianism
Utilitarianism: an, rule or principle is right, if it promotes the greatest good (happiness) for the greatest number of persons (or sentient beings)
1. Consequentialism: the only consideration that makes acts right or wrong are the
consequences of that action
2. Welfarism: the only consequences that makes actions right or wrong is the
welfare of all persons – considered impartially (including an animals welfare)
3. Aggregationism: the only distribution of welfare that makes actions right or
wrong is the greatest sum of impartial welfare for all, regardless of the inequalities in the
distribution of welfare
Case for Case against
Anti – elitism : the moral equality of all people - The Argument from Constraints
Anti- prejudice: counting is an antidote to self- (justice objection)
serving wisdom - The Integrity Objection and
Comprehensiveness – an answer for every Dirty Hands
situation - The Argument from Special
Obligations or Loyalties
- The Demandingness Objection
or the Argument from Personal Projects:
Varieties of utilitarianims
- Direct act utilitarianism: an action is right if that action causes the best
- Indirect utilitarianism: an action is made right by something else, and that
something else causes the best consequences
- Rule utilitarianism: an action is right if it is consistent with a rule that is a member
of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society than any
available alternative set of rules
- Indirect virtue utilitarianism: an action is right if it is caused by a character traits
that is a member of a set of traits whose acquisition would lead to greater utility for
society than any available alternative set of traits
R.M Hare on utilitarianism
- Intuitive thinking involves relying on commonly held rules about right and wrong,
as well as having relevant emotions like guilt or remorse at doing wrong
- Critical thinking involves evaluating our actions in a circumstance, as well as our
rules of thumb and character traits according to whether those acts, rules and traits case
the largest sum of impersonal happiness
- Most people at least some of the time should pursue the greatest happiness
(Hare claims that it would self-defeating to aim directly at the best impartially good
consequences. This argument has the same structure as ‘the paradox of hedonism’ –
except that in the Framing Question the consequences are partial (or egoistic).)
- Most people at least some of the time should reform the rules on which they
Kantians View on Morality
- Immoralist: someone who holds mistaken beliefs about right and wrong
- Amoralist: someone who does not make any moral judgments
- Moral anarchist: someone who believes the moral law lacks overriding authority
- Argues that respect for individual rights is our duty no matter what the consequences
- Anyone for whom respect for the moral law is not a sufficient motive for doing
their duty is defective
THE GOOD WILL AND MORAL WORTH
- Claims that in order for a persons action to have moral worth a person must be
motivated by respect for the moral law
- Motives of self-interest or live, compassion and sympathy are defective
- A good will has unconditional value – it is the only thing that is unconditionally
valuable and is necessary for an act to have moral worth
- Objection: respect for the moral law does not suffice for actions to have moral
- Objection: acting from respect for the law is not necessary for actions to have
moral worth for example compassion and love as a reason to do the right thing
Deontological ethics: The only consideration that makes right acts right is sometimes independent
from the consequences of that action. I.e. the right is prior to the good
1. Universal law test – act only in accordance with that maxim through which you
can at the same time will that it become a universal law
2. Respect for humanity test – act so that you treat humanity whether in your own
person or in that of another, always as and end and never as a means only
Four kinds of duties inferred from the universal law test
1. Perfect duties to others – keeping your promises
2. Perfect duties to self – committing suicide
3. Imperfect duties to others – aiding others
4. Imperfect duties to self – a man has talent but prefers a life of dissolution
- The rigidity objection: violating rights for the greater good
- The emptiness objection: too abstract to provide any guidance (euthanasia)
- Authority: if someone is an authority then the fact they recommended x is always
a reason to x – though perhaps that reason can be overridden
- Other forms of morality have too little guidance or too much that it cannot be
- Provides an alternative account of moral reasoning that highlights the need for
- Wisdom: an ability to deliberate that goes beyond relying on rules
- Provides an account of moral reasoning that highlights wisdom and good
- An account of right action
- (V) ‘An action is right if and only if it is what a virtuous agent would do in the
circumstances.’ (Hursthouse 1991: 225)
- (V1) ‘A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, that is, one who has and
exercises the virtues.’ (Hursthouse 1991: 225)
- (V2) The virtues ‘are character traits (which are dispositions to feel and react as
well as act in certain ways) required for eudaimonia’ *individual good or happiness, the
virtues benefit their possessor] (Hursthouse 1991: 226)
Ethical egoism: the only consideration that makes right actions right is that the action advances the interests or happiness of the person who performs the action.
Defense of eudaimonist virtue ethics:
1. The proper function argument – the good for all members of a kind is determined
by that kinds proper function
2. The proper function for a biological kind is determined by its distinctive features –
a person can only be truly happy or good if they exercise their rational capacities over the
course of life
3. Virtues are traits that enable an identity to perform its proper function well or
achieve its good
Bernard Mayo’s version of virtue ethics
1. It is an ethics of being rather than an ethics of doing
2. Moral reasoning emphasizes the need for moral character
Hursthouse believes it is a ridiculous account of moral reasoning
1. Incompleteness: no human being can have experience that is relevant for all life’s
2. Moral relativism (different traits of saints)
Nietzsche View on Morality
The Gist of N’s argument:
1. All moral theories can be classified into two broad varieties: master and slave moralities.
2. Slave moralities contrast good and evil; master moralities good and bad.
Kantian, Utilitarian, and other moralities whose content requires impartial concern for all human
beings are all slave moralities.
3. There is no foundation in reason for impartial moralities. We believe that impartial
moralities are true is a matter of common sense b/c and only b/c, of the triumph of the Judao-
Christian religious tradition. There is no point in accepting impartial moralities now that ‘God is
4. The Judao-Christian tradition is a slave revolt, where the weakest members of society
managed to attain dominance by extolling the virtues of humility, equality, humanity and the like.
N thinks it was a master-stroke of the Jews to help pull off the “inversion of values”: an instance
of the weak imposing their will against the odds, and an exercise of the “will to power”.
But the Jews succeeded only by getting others to embrace a perverted ideology. The best and
most admirable form of willing does not exploit gullibility and errors of belief.
5. Moral Egoism: For N, people should aim only for their own happiness – a view he shares with
Aristotle and Hobbes.
Aristotle: since humans are social species (and not Gods or hermits) their “natural function” -- or
what they must do well in order to be a good human being – involves doing their share in their
Nietszche: the good life (or happiness) is agonistic (essentially competitive): person A can only
achieve perfection by dominating, or achieving power over persons B,C…n.
If virtues are traits that benefit their possessor, Nietzschean virtues comprise: cunning, pride, the
ability to scare and intimidate others (in contrast to justice, wisdom, temperance and courage).
(There overtones in Machiavelli and his advice that force and fraud are virtues in some political
Hobbes: there is no objective good life; people are happy to the extent they can remain alive and
satisfy their desires. The virtues are character traits that are conducive to keeping us alive by
helping us avoid conflicts with others. The most important virtue is humility (vs pride). But people
cannot survive by virtue alone, but require a political state. What a person has reason to do is
obey their government no matter what it commands.
Hobbes affirms an anti-elitist account of human good. N’s implicit test for a good action:
Def’n Good Action: An action is good if and only if it is in accordance with what a person would do
in those circumstances who possesses the “will to power” (and the character traits that facilitate
domination over others).
6. Moral Anti-Realism vs Agonistic Morality
His argument is interpreted in two ways (which are probably not consistent).
i) Moral anti-realism: Impartial moral theories are false because all moral theories are
inventions. (Impartial morality holds that all human beings count as equals, and moral duties are
identified from a perspective where each is counted.) All morality is a collective or social creation
that can be no more true or false than a work of fiction. Philosophy should do anthropology and
uncover the origins of that illusion (a method known as ‘philosophical anthropology’).
NB: I think this reading is not correct.
ii) An Agonistic Virtue Morality: Impartial moral theories are false because a better moral
theory is available. The correct theory has more in common with Pagan moralities that preceded
Judao-Christian morality. Philosophical anthropology on this view can help us understand why the
West made a ‘wrong turn’ in ethics.
Social contract theory:
- The only consideration that makes right actions right is that the action is in
accordance with an agreement made by rational people for governing their society
- It is a deontological theory