[18.104.22.168.] Classical vs. Modern Utilitarianism.
The theory called utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism. It is one way of taking the basic idea of consequentialism (that actions are right or wrong only because of their consequences) and making it more specific.
A rough definition of utilitarianism is this:
The right thing to do in any situation is whatever will increase the overall amount of happiness in the world and decrease the overall amount of suffering.
This is how Utilitarians in the 19th century stated the theory; I will call it “classical Utilitarianism.”
These days, utilitarians are likely to emphasize well-being or making people better off rather than happiness. A rough definition of this modern form of utilitarianism:
The right thing to do in any situation is whatever will increase the overall amount of well-being in the world. I will call this “modern Utilitarianism.”
(Soon we will examine reasons why modern utilitarians tend to focus on well-being rather than on happiness.)
[6.3.] Utility and Value.
A reminder: in general, utilitarianism is the view that the right thing to do in any situation is whatever will have the best consequences for anyone who could be affected.
But what consequences are best? Every utilitarian has to answer this question.
In other words, every form of utilitarianism must identify something that has intrinsic value—
· intrinsic value (df.): something has intrinsic value when it is valuable for its own sake rather than because it can help you attain something else of value. The opposite is extrinsic value...
· extrinsic value (df.): something has extrinsic value when it is valuable as a means to an end—a way of helping you achieve something else that you value—rather than as an end in itself.
So, in other words, every form of utilitarianism must identify something worth having for its own sake, something that is intrinsically valuable.
Utilitarians use the word “utility” to refer to whatever it is that is worth having for its own sake.
They will then explain what a morally right action is by saying that it is an action that increases the overall amount of utility. According to utilitarianism, the moral status of an action will depend upon whether it increases the amount of that intrinsically valuable thing.
According to modern utilitarianism, that which has value for its own sake is well-being.
But according to classical utilitarianism, that which has value for its own sake is happiness.
[6.4.] Classical Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism was given its classical statement in the 19th century by three English philosophers:
· Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
· John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the author of Utilitarianism
· Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900)
The lives of Bentham and Mill are discussed by Rachels in his introduction to RTD ch.3 (pp.29-30).
According to Mill’s classical utilitarianism, utility amounts to happiness. He even called utilitarianism “the Greatest Happiness Principle.” (See RTD p.29)
But Mill has a relatively complicated understanding of what happiness is...
[6.3.1.] John Stuart Mill’s Concept on Happiness.
John Stuart Mill’s thinking about morality begins with the concept of happiness…
· Mill defines happiness as: pleasure and the absence of pain. He says:
...pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and … all desirable things ... are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. (“Utilitarianism,” RTD 29)
In other words pleasure and the absence of pain (i.e., “happiness,” as Mill uses that word) are the only things that have intrinsic value.
· But Mill’s concept of pleasure is not limited to bodily pleasures. Mill includes both higher and lower pleasures in his definition of happiness:
· lower pleasures: physical pleasures, of which humans and non-human animals (including swine!) are both capable, e.g., not being hungry or thirsty, being physically comfortable (warm, dry, etc.), and sexual pleasure.
· higher pleasures: intellectual and emotional pleasures, e.g., friendship, knowledge, aesthetic enjoyment; only humans are capable of these
· And on Mill’s view, it is not just the quantity of pleasure that matters; it is also the quality, and higher pleasures are of higher quality than the lower pleasure (that’s why they are called “higher”!). A portion of his argument that so-called higher pleasures are of higher quality than so-called lower pleasures is as follows:
If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.
Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. … A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. … 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, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides. (RTD 30-32)
[6.3.2.] Classical Utilitarianism’s Three Components.
Mill referred to his fundamental moral principle as the “Greatest Happiness Principle”: “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (RTD 29)
The Greatest Happiness Principle is Mill’s statement of his version of utilitarianism, which is sometimes called classical utilitarianism. It consists of three independent claims:
1.consequentialism: what makes an action right or wrong are nothing but its effects.
2.impartiality: the interests of any being are just as important as the same interests of any other being.
3.hedonism: pleasure and the absence of pain are the only things with intrinsic value
[Recall that Rachels is committed to impartiality... it is one-half of what he calls the Minimum Conception of Morality:
1. “moral judgments must be backed up by good reasons”;
2. “morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual’s interests.” (EMP 10)
Stopping point for Thursday October 10. For next time, finish reading EMP ch.8 (pp.117-124).
 For a much more detailed account of Mill’s conception of pleasure, see David Brink, “Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/mill-moral-political/ >.
 Bentham: "Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one." [Bentham may never have written this; J. S. Mill attributes the saying to Bentham in ch.V of Utilitarianism; it is cited by Peter Singer in his defense of animal rights, RTD 124]
This page last updated 10/10/2013.
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