John Stuart Mill suggests that a persons ethical decision-making processshould be based solely upon the amount of happiness that the person can receive.Although Mill fully justifies himself, his approach lacks certain criteria forwhich happiness can be considered.
Happiness should be judged, not only bypleasure, but by pain as well. This paper will examine Mills position onhappiness, and the reasoning behind it. Showing where there are agreements andwhere there are disagreements will critique the theory of Utilitarianism.
Byshowing the problems that the theory have will reveal what should make upethical decision-making. John Stuart Mill supports and explains his reasoning inhis book, Utilitarianism. Mill illustrates the guidelines of his theory. Milldefines utilitarianism as the quest for happiness. His main point is that oneshould guide his or her judgements by what will give pleasure. Mill believesthat a person should always seek to gain pleasure and reject pain.Utilitarianism also states that the actions of a person should be based upon the”greatest happiness principle”.
This principle states that ethical actionscommand the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Millfurther explores the need for pleasure by noting “a being of higher facultiesrequires more to make him happy.” . He acknowledges that some pleasures aremore alluring than others are. He adds to this by making known that when placingvalue in things to calculate pleasure, not only quantity important but qualityas well. Mills criteria for happiness is easily understood, some statementsthat he gives are questionable.
John Stuart Mill plainly laid out what hebelieves that the basis for ethical decision-making. First, the pursuit ofpleasure is directly related to happiness. This idea can be easily accepted. Itis natural for a person to focus his goals on things that will bring himpleasure. It would be absurd if someones goal in life was to be poor andstarving. This being said, it does not mean that people are only happy duewealth but that no ones goals are focused on poverty.
Although there are manyissues that can be agreeable with Mill, there are problems that exist with histheory of utilitarianism. First, Mill says that all ethical decisions should bebased on pleasure. This statement becomes questionable when Mill states thatpleasure is the sole requirement for happiness. Pain indirectly effectshappiness. Pain is an indirect factor because is not the object of oneshappiness, but is an obstacle which one must overcome to gain it.
If one is toavoid all pain in his or her life, then how will that person truly know whattrue pleasure feels like? True pleasure comes only after experiencing pain. If aperson always wins a race, does he or she feel true pleasure each time they winor does it turn into a feeling that they come to expect? If there is a personwho loses races constantly, will his happiness be greater when he finally wins?The rewards and pleasures of the second person would greatly outweigh thefeelings of happiness the first had because he or she knows how it feels to bedefeated. The second person knows the pain that is received because of failureso when he when he will recognize the joy and pleasure that comes with winning.
Using this same setting, would it be better for the second person to run inraces filled with people who are not matched in skill just so he may always winor should he or she race individuals who are equally matched? Although the firstwould produce pleasure, the second example would yield the greater amount ofpleasure due to the understanding that the competition was evenly matched. Bothof these examples show that pain can ultimately cause pleasure, and in somecases the presence of pain will increase the feeling of happiness. Another pointwere there is disagreement is when Mill justifies the pursuit of pleasure bysaying “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness;wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” This statement is notuniversally true. People have different perspectives, what is pleasure for onecould be pain for another. Who is right and is wrong? A problem evolves becausethere is no set definition pertaining to what is pleasurable therefore right andpainful therefore wrong. The final disagreement with Utilitarian states that ifsomeone saves a person who is drowning, the rescuer did what is morally righteven if his intentions were wrong.
This is difficult to understand. If therescuer saved the person, only to make the person die of a greater pain ; Millstill believes the rescuer to be morally right. Intentions should be veryimportant when it concerns morality. The difficulty in deciding if thepersons intentions are moral is that there is no way to know for sure.
Thefact that there is no way to positively tell, the person committing the actdoes. For believers of God and Jesus Christ, it is a sin to have impurethoughts. According to Mill, the impure thoughts dont become a sin untilsomeone else knows about them. Whether the act is told to someone or it is kepta secret, it is still a sin. No matter how many other people think you aremorally right, if you know in your heart that you are wrong, then there is noway that you can be moral. Although Mill has made good points, he did notaccurately describe the criteria for happiness. Ethical thinking should not bebased solely on pleasure.
It is true that pleasure is important to happiness,but one must deal with pain and misery to be truly happy. Good and badconstantly affect each other but, the relationship between the two are polaropposites. This statement holds true no matter what one believes. To findhappiness, the opposing sides must find a suitable balance.
This does not meanthat pain is always a daily part of life, but that it can not and should not beavoided. If one were to try to avoid pain, it is quite possible that they wouldinadvertently pass up pleasure. This would happen because a person would be tooworried to take a chance on failing.
Pain is a part of life just as pleasure is.To reap the benefits of one, there must be consequences given to the other.There is a quote that goes, “You must drink from the chalice of pain, beforeyou can sip from the elixir of self-respect” Another criteria for happinessand morality should be based upon attentions. If one performs a moral action,but has immoral intentions, that person should not be considered ethicallycorrect.
To be truly right and happy, one must not only act but think right.Mill suggests that pleasure should guide our decision-making. While thestatement is true, it is not fully correct. If a person will deal with pain thatcome from hard work, dedication, and perseverance, then the benefits will bethat much sweeter.