Reading 35. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism Outline with Study Questions

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Reading 35. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

Outline with Study Questions
I. Chapter II. What Utilitarianism Is

A. The Doctrine of Utilitarianism

1. What is the “greatest happiness principle”?

2. What does Mill mean by “happiness”? by “unhappiness”?

3. What are the only things desirable in themselves?

4. Why does the doctrine that pleasure is the highest goal not degrade human beings to the level of animals?

5. What is Mill’s criterion for determining which of two pleasures has the higher quality?

6. What kinds of pleasure bring a superior kind of happiness to human life?

7. Why is it better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied?

8. When trying to maximize pleasure, which sentient beings should we take into consideration?

B. Responses to Objections

1. Why is utilitarianism not a selfish doctrine?

2. How does the moral teaching of Jesus exemplify utilitarianism?

3. What is Mill’s response to the objection that utilitarianism sets too high a standard by requiring that our motive always be the greatest happiness of society?

4. Why is it incorrect to say that utilitarians must normally focus their attention on the effects their actions will have on society as a whole?

5. What is Mill’s response to the objection that utilitarianism is a godless doctrine?

6. Why is it false to say that a utilitarian has insufficient time to calculate the effects of proposed actions on the general happiness?
II. Chapter IV. Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility Is Susceptible

A. The Desirability of the General Happiness

1. What is the only way to prove that something is desirable?

2. Why is the general happiness desirable?

3. Why is the good of all persons a good to each individual person?

B. The Desirability of Other Things

1. How is it possible to desire things other than happiness (virtue, for example) in themselves, when happiness is the only thing desirable in itself?

2. What sources of evidence can establish what things we desire for themselves?

3. What does it mean to think of an object as desirable?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Is an action immoral if it fails to maximize the happiness of all sentient creatures?

2. Should the good of the individual always be subordinated to the good of the group?

3. Is morality concerned only with the effects of actions and not with the motive of the agent?

4. Is pleasure the only thing intrinsically good (desired for its own sake)?

5. Is it consistent to hold that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that a pleasure with less quantity but more quality is better than one with less quality but more quantity?

6. Does thinking of something as desirable mean the same as thinking it to be


For Further Reading
Berger, Fred R. Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 363 pp.
See Chapter 2, “Mill’s Concept of Happiness and the Proof of Its Desirability” (pp. 30–63), and Chapter 3, “The Greatest Happiness Principle and Moral Rules” (pp. 64–120).
Crisp, Roger. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. New York: Routledge, 1997. 232 pp.
See Chapter 4, “The Proof and Sanctions of Utilitarianism” (pp. 67–94), and Chapter 5, “What Utilitarianism Is” (pp. 95–133).
Donner, Wendy. “Mill’s Utilitarianism.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mill, ed. John Skorupski, pp. 255–92. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
This work is an exposition of Utilitarianism, with reference to some contemporary interpretations of Mill’s theory.

McCloskey, H. J. John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study. London, England: Macmillan, 1971. 186 pp.

See Chapter 3, “Ethical Theory: Utilitarianism” (pp. 56–95).
Smart, J. J. C., and Bernard Williams. Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973. 155 pp.
This book contains an essay by Smart that proposes a utilitarian ethical theory (“An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics,” pp. 3–74) and an essay by Williams that rejects all utilitarian theories (“A Critique of Utilitarianism,” pp. 77–150).

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