Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill 2nd Installment

Section #10

Yonathan Feleke

In my first installment, I talked about how John Stuart Mill explained the role happiness played in shaping our moral values. You can find a link to my first installment by clicking here. We’ve discussed in class about the higher and lower happiness so I’m going to jump to skip that portion.
Mill raised the question on what basis does the principle of utility rely on, or in other words is there some kind of proof. He answers this question by mentioning that it is common for all first principles to lack “proof by reasoning”. He then goes on to say that we can prove that something is visible because people can see it, using the same principle, the only way it can be proven something is desirable is that people desire it, and people desire happiness. Mill stated, “The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable.” Not only that, but he also stated it is the only thing desirable as an end. This means everything we do is means to that end. But what about virtue? Don’t people desire that?
Yes, it is true that people desire virtue, but it is not “as universal” as the desire for happiness. And the utilitarian doctrine doesn’t deny the desire of virtue. In fact, Mill stated, “… not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired disinterestedly”. What does that mean? In short, it means that individuals should desire virtue without the belief that actions are only virtuous because they lead to some desirable end, which they do, but not on the account of it being a virtue. In that account people, according to Mill, who live virtue “disinterestedly” has made it as part of their happiness. Keep in mind that the principle of utility doesn’t state that the means come together and make up something called happiness, and we desire them to that account. Each means is “desired and desirable” in and for itself and not only they are means to happiness but also, they become part of it. Mill gave a good example of this by introducing the “love of money”.  Money by itself, if we’re observing it without value, is no more desirable than a piece of paper. But money has value because it can buy things. So, it is fair to say that we desire money to get other things than itself. Yet, we observe that people’s desire to have and reserve it is more than they want to spend it. So, it changes from that the desire for money is “not for the sake of some end, but as part of the end.” Individuals who love to possess money will make it part of the “principle ingredient” to their happiness.

Virtue was not originally part of happiness according to the utilitarian conception but through time what is considered virtuous promotes pleasure and “especially to protection of pain”, and adapt and associate it to be “good in itself”. Thus, creating the desire to leading it to become part of happiness. The love of money, fame, or power, may cause a person to become unpleasant to the society that he/she is a part of, but the “disinterested love of virtue” will bring him/her closer to them. Because of that reason, the utilitarian standard states the love of virtue as “above all things important to the general happiness.”


Although I conclude my blog here, I strongly suggest to anyone interested to read the book. It has changed my views on what happiness is how much the things we do is influenced by it. It opened my eyes and made me more conscious of my actions. I hope for all of you who decide to read it to have as much fun as I have with it (if not more). Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill




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