Julia Driver, Ethics: the Fundamentals
Chapter 3: Classical Utilitarianism, pp. 40 – 60
Consequentialism: the only thing relevant about an action is the consequences of said
action. Ethical egoism = persons ought to promote their own individual well-being. Thus, an
action is good when the consequences are good to the person committing the action. It is the
only consideration relevant in determining whether or not those actions are right or wrong.
Aversion of consequentialism is utilitarianism.
Utilitarians believe the scope of relevant consequences is much broader than do the egoists. The
utilitarian counts the well-being of all sentient creatures, and thus impartially. He believes
moral reasons for action are agent-neutral.
Principle of utility (as articulated by Bentham):
“By the principle of utility is meant the principle which approves or disapproves of every action
whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the
happiness of the party whose interest is in question… I say this of every action whatsoever: and
therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.”
Laws as well as individuals should be scrutinized according to this principle.
1 – The principle.
Divided in two parts:
1. The approach that we ought to take to value. In this case, maximizing it.
2. The value-theory that provides a substantive account of intrinsic value: what value
should we consider?
Bentham believed that the morally right action for the individual was that action which
produced, on balance, the greatest amount of pleasure overall. Hedonist approach to value.
However, difference w/ Epicurean account: the scope of the morally relevant action is much
broader. The right action brings about the most overall good, not just the most good for the
agent performing the action.
BASIC GOOD = PLEASURE (intrinsic value). INTRINSIC DISVALUE = PAIN.
Parameters of pleasure:
1. Intensity 2. Duration
3. Certainty or uncertainty
4. Propinquity or remoteness
Hedonism holds that it is bad to concede to immediate pleasure if it brings pain in the long-
term (e.g. going to party the day before an exam, thus failing said exam). Moreover, some things
may be intrinsically bad while being instrumentally good (e.g. vaccination).
Egalitarian view that everyone’s pleasure basically counts the same, and that the only differences
between pleasures are quantitative. No pleasures are intrinsically better than others (or superior
quality-wise) according to that view.
Criticism of that view:
1. too egalitarian because it implies all pleasures are intrinsically the same in kind. Accused
of “swine morality” (promoting lower forms of pleasure, that are simply sensual).
2. it’s fine that animals are included in the theory because they also feel pleasure and pain,
but in this theory, Bentham gives them the same moral standing as human beings.
Mill, however, is now regarded as the representative philosopher of utilitarianism. In
Utilitarianism, he defined the principle of utility as such:
“The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals “utility” or the “greatest
happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to
promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By
happiness is intended the pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain
and privation of pleasure.”
Like Bentham, the point is to produce the greatest overall good and like Bentham, it’s
subscribing to a hedonistic theory of value. However, that last value was modified by Mill to
respond to the “swine morality” criticism. He differentiates the pleasures and adds a qualitative
measure to differentiate them, having noticed that intuitively, people feel that there are pleasures
(intellectual ones) that are better in kind. Thus:
“Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites and, when once made
conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include gratification… It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied
than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only
know their own side of the question.”
DISTINCTION BETWEEN HIGHER AND LOWER PLEASURES. Did not exist in Bentham’s
account of utilitarianism. Higher pleasures are superior in kind. This allows a differentiation
between humans and animals, all the whilst keeping a moral standard for animals.
DIFFERENCE =ANIMALS DO NOT HAVEACCESS TO HIGHER PLEASURES.
Also provides a powerful moral argument for a system of public education that develops the
intelligence and intellectual capabilities of as many people as possible.
2 – Proving the principle of utility.
Bentham said the principle of utility couldn’t be proved. Mill disagreed and attempted to prove
“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 it is possible to produce that anything is desirable is that people do
actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were
not, in theory and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever
convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general
happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be
attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a