Utilitarianism and the Greatest Happiness Principle

As argued by Utilitarian principles, happiness for a significantly higher number of people should characterize the basis for public policies to be created. However, this view has been objected to and has been branded as undesirable and unrealizable on an ideological basis. Meanwhile, Mill is of the view that utilitarianism is misunderstood through misinterpretation of utility as an aspect that opposes pleasure. Mill depicts utilitarianism as defining pleasure; therefore, eliminating the probability of the existence of pain. Mill presents his argument, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill, 1871, p. 9). This argument asserts that where happiness prevails, then pleasure dominates while if there is no happiness, then the conditions must be painful and deprived of pleasure. Mills presents his perspective on the Greatest Happiness Principle; happiness being optimal in the absence of pain and presence of pleasure as the ideal utilitarian condition. Therefore, any conditions or circumstances that contribute to the provision or heightening the experience of pleasure and happiness are ideal. However, anything to the contrary is considered as negating the basic ideals of the Greatest Happiness Principle.

Mill perceives that the happiness of people, besides the agent of happiness is the basis in which utilitarian's judge human actions. Thus, individual must take into account other people’s happiness before accounting for their own happiness. However, this does not imply that people's intentions should be in service of the greater good.  Utilitarianism has no concern with an individual motivation towards an action; however, the results of such an action characterize the morality of the action. Additionally, it is not possible to influence a significant number of people on a daily basis; therefore, individual actions should not be aimed at benefiting all, but those in direct contact. However, those working in public service regularly must factor in the greater good in their activities.

Utilitarianism is depicted as unsympathetic and cold as its sole concern is consequences of human actions, and not on the people as immoral or moral in themselves. Mill observes that if the argument is premised on the fact that utilitarianism does not allow the wrongness or rightness of an action to be influenced by the person who executes an action, then this is an argument against of all morality. The ethical standards of an action are premised on the action and not on the individual who executed the action. However, Mill observes that if the arguments against utilitarianism are meant to imply that utilitarian’s perceive utilitarianism as a definite standard of morality, and fail to recognize other desirable aspects of character, then it is justifiable argument against utilitarianism. He observes that it is a wrong to encourage moral feelings, to the exclusion of the artistic understanding and sympathies, an error which moral proponents of all types often make.

Meanwhile, it is argued that before an action is taken, there is in most cases insufficient time to analyze the entire possible outcome on utility. Mill disagrees with this view arguing that such an observation is equivalent to saying that Christians cannot be able to act as Christians; because they are unable to read the bible for directions on how to act as Christians. Mill asserts that human history has provided enough lessons on which given actions are known to produce given results. There is a significant agreement on what is useful, and people have the capacity and ability to impart knowledge to children, as well. All rational individuals live with their minds decided on given basic questions of what constitutes right and wrong.

Utilitarianism is too allowing; hence it underestimates the immoral inclinations of human nature. For instance, it is observed that a utilitarian will exception himself from subjection to the rules, and will justify breaking the rules by saying that the action in question increases utility

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