View Philosopher Main Points
Sentimentalist Hume -is morality grounded in reason or sentiment?
& Empiricist morality is based on sentiment; we act morally because we want
to do what’s best for others (we want to see them happy, not sad)
-analyze “personal merit” ---> what qualities we admire in others
the admired traits are those that increase utility
-we all have a natural quality that makes us care about other people
Utilitarianism Mill -moral thing to do is what brings the best consequences for the general
people (pleasure and happiness, rather than unhappiness)
“greatest happiness principle”
Everyone’s pain and pleasure is equal (whether doctor or criminal)
-ex. war: saving millions of lives at the cost of soldiers (much less)
Act utilitarianism: considering consequences of actions
Rule utilitarianism: considering consequences if everyone acted
according to certain rules (not concerned with actions)
-better to be a person dissatisfied than a pig satisfied
-ideal perfection of morality: treat others as you would like to be treated
-objection: there is little time, prior to action, for calculating and weighing
the effects or consequences of your actions to produce the most utility
Response: the past duration of human species; we’ve learned and
experienced the tendencies of our actions
Against Williams -Utilitarianism leaves no room for projects between egotistic projects and
Utilitarianism projects concerning the well-being of the world
-Jim and George case
Nagel -the things that matter for a good life aren’t due to luck, we should try to
find something we can aim for; ex. contemplation, family, health, etc.
-there is a hierarchy: eating allows us to keep healthy and engage in
activities, biological functions support our reasoning
-biological function supports reason, not the other way around
Kant -morality can’t be based on how we feel; it must be grounded in reason
If it was based on feelings, morality would vary among everyone
It should be consistent and apply to everyone, no matter what
Categorical imperative (applies to everyone; “you must do Y”)
Aristotle -virtue should be in the middle of 2 extremes (ex. ambitious)
-the best type of life is a contemplative life
-reason is the most important thing we do
Mackie -morality is not objective (we never actually use these basic moral
principles, such as those explained by Mill, Kant, etc.)
What is the greatest happiness principle Mill takes to be the foundation of right action?
Actions are morally right when they promote the greatest general/overall happiness, and wrong if they
produce unhappiness. Happiness is pleasure and the absence of pain, and unhappiness is pain and the
absence of pleasure. It is moral to try to maximize utility (what is good; happiness). Why is Mill concerned with the question of whether some pleasures are more desirable and more
valuable than others?
Although we are capable of basic instinctive pleasures, such as hunger and sex, we are capable of much
more. Animals are capable of those basic pleasures, but they do not have the ability to indulge in higher
pleasure that humans can. Humans are capable of critical thinking, music, art, literature, etc.
Bentham (founder of utilitarianism) says that there is just 1 kind of pleasure and that no human
activities are better than any other. Mill disagrees and says that the quality of pleasures should be
considered just as much as quantity. Mill disagrees that “push-pin is as good as poetry.”
If some pleasures are higher than others, than it is contradictory to the principle that states that only
pleasure matters. However, if not, then it seem to be “mean and grovelling” that we are only satisfied
with the basic pleasures that even animals can experience (higher pursuits of humans are not valuable).
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?"
No person would want to sink to a lower grade of existence (except in cases of extreme unhappiness).
The being whose capacity for enjoyment is much lower will be satisfied much easier. The highly
endowed being will always feel that the happiness which he looks for is imperfect, but if he can live with
these imperfections, he will not envy the being that is unconscious of these imperfections.
Although pleasure is the only thing that matters, one reason why practicing the piano for a long time
rather than just playing video games or watching TV is that when you get good at piano, you may bring
more pleasure to not only yourself, but to those around you as well; resulting in greater overall utility.
Mill says that pleasure is not just measured quantitatively, but qualitatively as well.
In many cases, an intelligent person struggling with a hard task (ex. solving a difficult problem) may be
happier than someone who is satisfied with doing nothing except for relaxing and eating donuts. In
other words, the higher quality pleasure that the person is feeling from pursuing the harder task is
greater than that of one without such goals.
How does Mill try to show that this doctrine of “higher and lower” pleasures is consistent with his
Same as question below, except:
-competent judges: individuals who have been exposed to both pleasures. When these individuals pick
the favoured pleasure, it is considered the higher pleasure. The lower pleasures turn out to be those
such as hunger, sex, etc.; and the higher pleasures are those such as studying literature, art, music, etc. Why does Mill think people sometimes opt for sensual indulgences over better forms of pleasure?
People may lose their high aspirations or goals when they find they have no time or opportunity to
indulge in them; thus, they addict themselves to inferior and more accessible pleasures (the nearer
good), not because they prefer them, but because they are the pleasures that have easier access to and
are possibly the only pleasures they are capable of enjoying (after habit of indulging in these lower
They may become incapable of enjoying higher forms of pleasure due to setting bad habits. For
example, if you know it’s better for you to go to the gym and workout on a Saturday afternoon, but
every time the day comes, you make the excuse to stay at home at watch TV because you’re too tired
(even though you know it’s worse for you), then a bad habit forms and you may no longer feel any
pleasure in working out – only in relaxing and watching TV.
How does Mill respond to the objection that utilitarianism has too high a standard for humanity?
Mill says that just because the standard of utilitarianism may be considered “too high,” it doesn’t mean
it’s wrong. Although many people say that it is very difficult to take everyone else’s happiness and pain
into equal consideration as you think of yourself; including family, friends, strangers, and even enemies.
For example, you have $10 in your pocket. You can either use it to buy lunch, or can donate it to a
group that buys mosquito nets for people in Africa at risk of malaria, with a good chance of saving
someone’s life. Utilitarianism would require you to donate your $10 every time because saving the life
of a human being results in far greater utility than the unhappiness you feel from missing a lunch.
According to Utilitarianism, the only appropriate time for you to buy your lunch with the $10 instead of
donating it would be when you’re own life/health was at stake, and if you didn’t have a meal, you would
harm or end up killing yourself from starvation.
As well, according to utilitarians, there is no distinction between the “ends” and the “means.” If the bad
of the “means” is less than the good of the “ends,” then it is morally right. In other words, regardless of
intention, an act is morally right if it results in the greatest utility.
How does Mill explain the “sanction” of the Principle of Utility – that is, how does he explain why we
ought to follow it?
There are two types of sanctions: external and internal sanctions. External sanctions exist externally to
human beings and can take the form of peer pressure, or fear of the wrath of a divine being/Ruler of the
Universe as punishment for breaking the law. Internal sanctions are derived from our conscience; they
are our inner moral feelings. For example, being brought up (through experiences and from parents,
teachers, friends) with the rules that “lying and cheating is bad,” when you lie to your parents about
doing poorly in school, you will feel an inner remorse or guilt due to your internal sanctions. How does Mill answer the question of justification? What “proof” does he give of the Principle?
Mill says that the only proof that an object is visible is that people can actually see it; similarly, he says
that the only proof that something is desirable, is that people actually desire it. For example, it’s a fact
that happiness is good, because everyone desires their own happiness; therefore, happiness is one
criterion of morality. As well, people may value and desire virtue, but only because it promotes and
generates happiness. It could be said that anything that people value, such as cars, friends, and family,
is only desired because it brings us happiness. Therefore, happiness is the main criterion for morality.
Since it is evident that each person values his or her own well-being and happiness, it can be concluded
that the general happiness is important to the general people.
NOT ALWAYS THE CASE: there are some things that don’t bring happiness that we desire (ex. drugs;
satisfying in the short term, but detrimental in the long run