Essay On John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism

John Stuart Mill Argument On Utilitarianism

There are various discussions about utilitarianism but the most discussed one is the fact that, it is held to be the view that morally right action is the action that produces the most good. This theory is better understood as a form of consequentialism whereby, right actions are better understood as a result of produced consequences. However, utilitarianism is not the same as egoism, since; utilitarianism is determined by the scope of the relevant consequences. Utilitarianism argues that one has to maximize the overall good, consider both his own good as well as the good of others. Two well-known philosophers, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, identified the good with pleasure and also argued that we need to maximize the good. Utilitarianism is also distinguished by agent-neutrality. It emphasis that happiness is the same to everyone; my good does not differ from the good of someone else. We all have the same reason to promote the good; it is not unique to one person. The features of this approach to moral evaluation have proven to be controversial. These controversies have resulted to change in the classical version of the theory. John Stuart Mill depicts the concept of utilitarianism as a philosophical theory with regard to doing what is right and wrong and how they result in happiness and being unhappy. Mills further defines happiness as the pleasure and absence of pain. According to Mills pleasure can differ in terms of quantity and quality. Also pleasures that are very important to one should be should be weighed more heavily as opposed to the ones that are less important. Mills also stated that things such as one’s achievement of goals should be considered as part of their happiness. John argues about utilitarianism with the sole aim of supporting the value of the theory as a moral theory.

Mill stated that utilitarianism is hand in hand with the natural sentiments that originate from the social nature of people. Therefore, people would view these standards as morally binding if the society were to embrace utilitarianism. According to John the main base of morality is happiness and people always desire happiness. He supported this statement through proving that other objects of desires of people were either means to achieve happiness or include the definition of happiness. He further states that the sentiment of justice is based on utility and human rights exists solely because they are necessary for human happiness.

However, the theory of utilitarianism has been criticized for many reasons. Some of the reasons being that: the theory does not provide adequate protection for individual rights; happiness is more complex than it is depicted in the theory and not everything can be measured by the same standard. Mill stated that there is very minimal progress made in developing a set of standards of judging moral right and wrong. People have always tried to find the basis of morality but have not been successful. He agreed that it is common to have disagreement about such bases in the field of science.

Despite of this, he states that in the field of science certain truths still have meaning even if the principle behind them is not understood. However, in other fields such as ethics such truths or statements has very little validity. Unlike in science, all actions exists so as to achieve a certain end, hence, actions are determined by the ends being pursued. Basing on this statement Mill argues that one has to have a clear understating of the standard the human actions should be judged in order to understand what morality entails. Mill has argued a lot about utilitarianism with the aim of making people to better understand and appreciate the theory of utilitarianism and also prove it is a moral theory. However, according to him utilitarianism cannot be proven.

Immanuel Kant’s argument on Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.

According to Kant, morality is based on human reason and not on the principle of utility or on the law of nature. According to Kant, reasons determine what we are supposed to do and we are free when we follow them. Good will is the one thing in the world that is undeniably good. Qualities of good fortune such as wealth and qualities of character such as intelligence can either be used for good or bad purposes. Therefore, good is good even though it does not lead to positive results.

The highest purpose of each individual are self-preservation and attainment of happiness which is driven by the organ most appropriate to hat purpose. The instinct of these purposes is well situated as opposed to the reason. A study showed that people who possessed high capacity for reasoning were less happy. This has led to refined people envying the masses as they on the other hand view reason with contempt. However, the fact is that reason servers a purpose that is higher that one’s private happiness and survival. As opposed to good for some particular purpose the aim of reason is to bring about will that is good in itself.

Duties are the specific obligations of good will. They are three general propositions about duty: one, actions are genuinely good when undertaken for the sake of duty alone; two, actions are judged according to the principle that served as their motivation and not the purpose they were meant to bring about; and lastly, duties should be undertaken out of reverence for the law. Due to the fact that motivations and circumstances cannot be brought into the consideration of moral principles the moral law cannot be specific to do or not to do a certain action. Therefore, the law of morality requires us to act in such a way that we want the motivating principle of our actions to become a universal law.

Kant argues about the grounding for the metaphysics of morals in two sections. In the first section he states that good without qualification and unconditionally good are different. He also differentiate on the things that are good but only under certain conditions. They are many things that belong in the second category, things are good only because of its consequences, since it is those consequences that determine on its being good and even all but one is good in itself. Kant stated that good will is the only thing that is good without qualifications. He further claims that goodwill is the only thing that we can imagine is good without qualifications and everything else is good with qualifications. According to him, goodwill serves as a condition of the value of everything else, something can be good only if it is compatible with good will.

In the second section, unlike in the first section where Kant stated that identifying and articulating our concept of duty, whereby one does his duty with the fact that it his duty and not because he is expecting some advantage or feels like it. We all have experienced this concept, however, Kant argues that the concept itself is not one we get from experience. According to him it is a prior concept and not a posteriori one. He argued that we came to acquire the concept of duty not through first experience of duty or extracting our concepts from those instances. Basing on his argument, he observed that the demands of morality are unconditional which apply to all rational beings and has no room for expectations. According to him the experiences we might have do not determine by themselves any such demands. He also states that to use examples as examples of someone else acting morally we would have the concept so as to determine the appropriateness of the cases.

My stand on the two arguments

Both philosophers have presented their arguments about morality and happiness in depth. However, they differ in one or two things in the arguments. Immanuel Kant argues that human reason what that determines morality, since, reasons are the sole determinants of what we are supposed to do or not do. He stated that we are free as long as we follow our reasoning and also good will is determine by values. On the other hand John Stuart Mill stated that for one to achieve total happiness and maximize on good he should consider his and others good, since, good is the same for everyone. He also stated that actions results to both right and wrong.

Personally I consider both theories because they both have something to offer in the aim of making us to better understand the concept of happiness, good will and morality. Looking at Kant he argues that we should follow our reasoning since they will ensure we achieve total happiness and on the other hand Mill argues that our actions are the ones that determine our happiness. However, I see both our actions and reasoning determine our happiness and good will. They both have a major role in determining our morality and happiness. This is because one cannot execute his reasoning without an action and he also cannot act without reasoning. One determines the other and in order to achieve effective results they should work hand in hand despite of the philosophers’ arguments. Therefore, we should consider them both and in length apply the both in order to achieve morality, happiness and good will.


One of the most important nineteenth-century schools of thought, Utilitarianism propounds the view that the value or rightness of an action rests in how well it promotes the welfare of those affected by it, aiming for ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the movement’s founder, as much a social reformer as a philosopher. His greatest interpreter, John Stuart Mill (1806-73), set out to humanize Bentham’s pragmatic Utilitarianism by balancing the claims of reason and the imagination, individuality and social well-being in essays such as ‘Bentham’, ‘Coleridge’ and, above all, Utilitarianism. The works by Bentham and Mill collected in this volume show the creation and development of a system of ethics that has had an enduring influence on moral philosophy and legislative policy.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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