- The Greatest Happiness Principle, or Utility, is that actions are right in proportion to
the amount of happiness they provide, and wrong in proportion to the opposite of
happiness they provide. Happiness is considered to be pleasure and lack of pain. no
reference to the past; only reference to the future
- You have ten dollars in your pocket. You can use it to buy lunch, or you can donate it to
a group that buys mosquito netting for people at risk of malaria, with a good chance, let
us suppose, of saving someone’s life.
o Utilitarian view: donate the money. However, there is a certain point at which
you would rather buy lunch than donate the money (i.e. if you will die of
o Examples in real life: military/war (risking lives of soldiers for greater good of
the country), torture (save many lives if info is obtained from one person
through torture methods), eating peanut butter at school (save the kids with the
allergy to peanut butter)
- Why is Mill concerned with the question of whether some pleasures are more
desirable and more valuable than others?
o The moral standards that the theory sets are dependent upon the inclusions and
exclusions of happiness, and to what degree certain things provide happiness.
According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, the only desirable outcomes are
pleasure and a lack of pain; therefore, the extent to which certain pleasures
provide happiness is important in determining moral standards. If one
pleasure is greatly preferred by many people than another, even though it will
provide less happiness, then it is clear that the quality of the preferred pleasure
is much greater than the other, especially if the preferred pleasure would be
chosen over a large quantity of the other pleasure. This preference is due to the
moral obligation to choose the first preference over the other, despite the lesser
- What does Mill mean when he says "It is "better to be a human being dissatisfied
than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied?”
o Being a human: capable of giving other people pleasure as well. Therefore,
higher pleasures are better because you can teach a higher level of thinking to
more humans (hence, higher pleasures), to make them happy, hence a higher
overall level of happiness
- Why does Mill think people sometimes opt for sensual indulgences over better
forms of pleasure?
o Mill argues that people who consciously choose a lower pleasure, that is, the
pleasure that is not the greater good, have already become incapable of
pursuing the pleasure that is the greater good. For example, young people often
pursue nobility and selflessness; however, upon aging, society and
environmental factors change such that the person is no longer able to maintain
the selflessness, and hence, becomes selfish. - How does Mill try to show that this doctrine of "higher and lower" pleasures is
consistent with his utilitarian view?
o In utilitarianism, the only things that are intrinsically valuable are pleasure and
a lack of pain, and the actions that are considered to be right are the ones that
result in the greatest amount of happiness for the most people. Therefore, since
higher pleasures, such as helping others and learning, provide happiness to
more people than lower pleasures, such as eating, higher pleasures are
preferred to lower pleasures. Furthermore, although people occasionally
choose lower pleasures over higher pleasures, they only do so because they are
no longer able to pursue the higher pleasure due to societal and environmental
- How does Mill respond to the objection that utilitarianism has too high a
standard for humanity?
o “ ... this is to mistake the very meaning of a standard of morals, and confound the
rule of action with the motive of it . . . “He who saves a fellow creature from
drowning does what is morally right whether his motive be duty or the hope of
being paid for his trouble...” p. 6
- “Act utilitarianism”: the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on whether the
action itself generates the greatness utility, that is, net overall balance of welfare.
- “Rule utilitarianism”: the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on whether it is
required, permitted, or prohibited by a rule that, if followed, would generate the
greatest utility, that is, net overall balance of welfare.
o Example: you made a promise to help your sister with her homework on
Saturday. The next day, you get asked out to an event you really want to attend
by someone you really like.
o Act utilitarianism: weigh happiness of going on date compared to suffering of
your sister. Also consider feelings of everyone involved (person asking you out,
your parents, etc)
o Rule utilitarianism: think about whether the action is allowed, and if following
the rule would generally bring about happiness. “If everyone broke their
promises what would happen?” Which rule is the best: nobody keeps promises,
everyone must keep promises, people can keep promises only when they feel
- How does Mill explain the "sanction" of the Principle of Utility -- that is, how does
he explain why we ought to follow it?
o For the greater good
- How does Mill answer the question of justification? What "proof" does he give of
o “The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people
actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: and
so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole
evidence that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it.” p. 14 - Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general (aggregate)
happiness is a good to all persons – each of us cares about the effects of our actions on
others. Difference between caring about yourself as a member of a group and caring
about the group itself. Some people’s happiness comes at the expense of another’s.
Utilitarianism doesn’t say much about individuals, individuality, etc
- Mill says we desire things because they bring us happiness – happiness is still the end
goal. You only want things because they make you happy (i.e. you want to have a good
job because it will make you happy)
o Examples opposing Mill: self-destructive behaviours (i.e. drugs), or calling a
recent ex – you want to do it even though you know it’ll make you unhappy in
- What does Williams take to be the significance of the two stories at the start of his
o Considers them “dilemmas”
o “To these dilemmas, it seems to me that the utilitarian replies, in the first case,
that George should take the job, and in the second, that Jim should kill the one
person.” p. 2
o we might wonder whether these are the right answers... in the case of Jim, we
might wonder whether it is obviously the right answer (as utilitarianism seems
to suggest ... ) p. 2
- Williams: utilitarianism cuts out considerations of individuals and their views
- How does integrity matter in Williams' thinking about the cases and about
related situations? How does he understand the relation to utilitarianism?
o Williams: you should be committed to your morals. Hence, utilitarianism makes
you violate a commitment you have made. Effects of your actions that seem
remote at the time of the decision may affect things later.
- What is Williams trying to show in his discussion of "remoter effects"?
o “Before we get to [consideration of projects and integrity], we should ask first
whether we are assuming too hastily what the utilitarian answers to the
dilemmas will be.
o Williams: “such feelings, which are from a strictly utilitarian point of view
irrational -- nothing, a utilitarian can point out, is advanced by them -- cannot,
consistently, have any great weight in a utilitarian calculation.” p. 3
o Guilt, sorrow, etc: Williams calls them irrational according to Utilitarians
because it’s a bad thing to do. Utilitarians: you can only feel sad/bad if the
greatest happiness isn’t brought about.
o And perhaps they should have no weight. The same kind of considerations in
favor of taking such feelings into account lead to “counting” feelings like
irrational racism, thus possibly favoring elimination of hated minorities, a
conclusion no utilitarian would want to accept.
o Basically: you feel things (i.e. psychological effects etc.) that utilitarianism
doesn’t take into consideration. Therefore, utilitarianism is wrong, because it doesn’t consider remoter effects such as psychological effects and the precedent
effect (acting in a certain way may encourage others to act similarly)
o Williams: neither remoter effect will be enough to change what the decisions
would be according to Utilitarianism, because they will not outweigh the
happiness. (i.e. Jim: he’ll feel remorseful for killing someone, but that doesn’t
outweigh saving the lives of 19 people)
o It could be inappropriate to base your decision too much on your own feelings
o If agent doesn’t do something, bad things will happen at the hands of someone
- Higher order project: bringing about desirable conclusions. Lower order projects:
pursuits and interests of an intellectual, cultural, or creative character. Utilitarianism
suggests nothing in between.
- What does Williams mean when he says toward the end, "For, to take the
extreme sort of case, how can [anyone], as a utilitarian agent, come to regard as
one satisfaction among others, and a dispensable one, a project or attitude round
which he has built his life, just because someone else's projects have so
structured the causal scene that that is how the utilitarian sum comes out?"
o to demand that a person simply step aside from his projects and commitments
when the sums come in ... “is an attack on his integrity.” p. 7
- What does Carritt mean when he says that the doctrine of higher and lower
pleasures is like saying "I only care about money, but I would not come by it
o “higher or lower” suggests we thinking something good not merely in
proportion to its general pleasantness but by its own nature.”
o “The fact is that we do not think some pleasures, such as that of cruelty, good at
all.” - - Carritt’s way of emphasizing what he takes to be the hypocrisy of caring
only about money but not coming by it dishonestly.
o When it comes time to make a decision, you should consider what everyone
wants to do
o Utilitarianism takes everything equally, even if they clearly aren’t equal (i.e.
cruelty – not everyone thinks it’s a pleasure)
- Why does Carritt believe that it is "fatal" to utilitarianism that it makes "no room
for justice"? What does this mean?
o Justice is so fundamental a value that it shouldn’t solely rely on good
consequences – example: we talk about why it would be unfair to punish
someone a certain way, even though it may bring about the most happiness. Not
o “We take account of past merit in our distribution” we saw the person who
has done good in the past deserved to be rewarded, and vice versa – if you reward people for bad things, you’re bringing about bad consequences by
encouraging people to act badly
o Mill: justice isn’t real. if one person is born with everything, another born
disabled and unable to hold a job due to mental illness, what is just in our
society? It seems just that the person with everything (talent, good looks etc)
should be rewarded because they’re contributing more to society. But, they
didn’t do anything that gave them these benefits. So, it seems okay but unfair at
the same time. That kind of example shows that when you talk about what’s
fair, they’re just feelings in your mind, they aren’t real.
o Mill: if justice is like that, why are our internal justice systems so ambiguous? A
lot of things are thought to be just/unjust depending on how they’re described.
There’s no such thing as justice, it’s just that some things lead to good
consequences for people in general.
- What is Carritt saying in section 4 about promises? Why does he use an example
of Arctic explorers instead of just an ordinary promise?
o Carritt: nobody knows that you’re making the promise, so it doesn’t matter if
you keep it or not. So, remoter effects do not exist.
o Why Arctic explorers?
- Interested in showing how morality is a kind of rationality morals should apply to
everyone whether people care about the morality of an action or not morality must
be grounded in reason
- What is it that Kant is calling a "good will," and why does he think it is so
o Kant: when you have good qualities and you commit appalling crimes, it’s more
horrifying that the people whose temperaments are out of control using good
character traits for bad is worse than having all bad traits
o Kant: will = distinct from desire. What matters in a person is what they are
directing their will towards – if they are directing their will towards good, they
are good people.
- duty vs. self-interest: shopkeeper who charges fair prices so that his customers will
come back is acting out of self-interest
- duty vs. inclination: to preserve one’s own life is a duty and an inclination for most
people. Those who have lost the taste for life may act out of duty in living to help
others out of a delight in spreading happiness is not an action of moral worth (it is not
done out of duty).
- Kant: acting well is when you do good things out of duty rather than inclination/self-
- What is the difference between a hypothetical and a categorical imperative?
o hypothetical: you should do something because you want something else (i.e. if
you want to be a doctor, go to med school. If you don’t, don’t go to med school) o categorical: kant wanted to know if things existed that applied to everyone in
the same way (not if you want something, then do this)
- Why does Kant take up the question of how imperatives are possible? Why is it
impossible to settle by example whether there is any categorical imperative?
o imperatives: who wills the ends wills the means. But: imperatives of prudence
are not necessary -- they are merely recommendations.
o Even things like “breathe air” doesn’t change who you are as a person, so it
isn’t a moral imperative.
o We never know that our motives are purely moral, and not following from fear,
o So categorical imperative has to be investigated a priori, that is, by methods
independent of particular experience. something you’ll have to learn.
- What is the formula of universal law?
o “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it
should become a universal law.”
o basic idea: if you are acting from a good will, you are acting for reasons, and
these reasons ought to be expressible in a such a way that they would be good
reasons for everyone. So act only on those principles which could govern
everyone in the same way.
o NOTE: unlike rule utilitarianism it’s not consequences, it’s whether you can
consistently will the universal. that’s how you know it’s not a good action
- What is the formula of the end in itself?
o “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person
or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same
time as an end.” p. 10
o Treat people as ends, and not as mere means
o You owe duties to other individuals, it doesn’t matter what the effects of your
o Examples: person who is sick of life and wants to die; ought to continue to live.
Person who borrows money knowing he cannot pay it back; has done wrong in
borrowing. Person who neglects natural gifts in favor of a life of pleasure; does
wrong in failing to develop his gifts. Person who sees others suffer and does
nothing to help; acts wrongly in caring nothing for others.
Kantianism versus Utilitarianism
- Kant, unlike Mill, says the motive of an act is crucial; an act has no moral worth unless
done out of a sense of duty.
- Kant does not focus on consequences but rather the nature of the act - what “maxim”
one is acting under.
- Kantian philosophy focuses on individuals -- must treat them always as ends and
respect their autonomy -- rather than on aggregate.
- In Kantian philosophy, never justified to kill one person to save twenty; this is treating
a person as a means.