Utilitarianism hold that the moral worthiness of any action can only be determined by how well it does provide pleasure or happiness to human beings. It can thus be regarded as a true form of consequentialism, this implying that the moral value of actions is solely determined by its results. The greatest contributors to this field of ideology were John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham (Cornman et al., 1992). Utilitarianism has often in several instances been described as struggling to give the greatest good possible to the largest number of people. Utility, which is the good that has to be maximized here has been categorized as being either pleasure or happiness (versus pain or suffering), though the former utilitarian’s did define it as attaining satisfaction of preferences (Harwood, 2003).

John Mill and Rachels View of Utilitarianism

John Mill in his book Utilitarianism, argues that intellectual, cultural as well as spiritual pleasures and happiness should be considered as being of greater value than just the physical pleasures since the former has generally been valued higher by most competent judges than the latter. According to Mill, a competent judge here refers to someone who has had both the experiences of the lower as well as higher pleasures (Cornman et al., 1992). He argued in his book that it is better for one to be a human being who is dissatisfied than to be a pig that is satisfied, or better put, he thought it better to be a dissatisfied Socrate than to be a fool who is satisfied. This clearly demonstrates Mill’s distinction of lower and higher pleasures. Mill justified his distinction of lower and higher pleasures by populating the thought that there could be very few human beings who would agree to be changed in into lower animals irrespective of the situations they are, even if they were to be promised fullest animal pleasures (Rachels and Stuart, 2009).

Rachels on the other hand has two main criticisms of Utilitarianism: its major claim that pleasure and happiness remains to be the only good, and that consequences is what matters in determining what is wrong and right. Rachels regards the consideration of happiness as the only good that matters as a foolish way of putting the cart before the horse. To explain this, he makes use of a pianist example who has been involved in an accident and get his hands injured, thus making it impossible for him to play the piano (Rachels and Stuart, 2009). The hedonist in this case would conclude that this kind of a misfortune makes him unhappy. Rachels on the other hand says it should be considered exactly backwards. The incident makes her to be unhappy just because it is a misfortune and her unhappiness should thus be regarded as being a rational response since it is directed to something that is objectively bad. The ability to play piano well remains to be a valuable gift in its own regard (Rachels and Stuart, 2009). The misfortune has caused the pianist to loose a valuable skill and this remains to be the cause of her unhappiness. Thus, playing the piano is the action that contributes to her happiness as it’s a worthwhile action and not vice-versa (Harwood, 2003).


It is thus clear that some kind of utilitarianism is subject to criticism. To be noted is that Mill does acknowledge that there are things which we desire just as being part of our own happiness rather than the means to it. Among these are such things as virtues and skills. This could be seen as a way that Mill does probably acknowledge that there is a problem with his approach of utilitarianism. If everything in life was to be worked for just because of pleasure, then we would all conclude that a painful struggle to uphold virtues may not truly be worth it. Though Mill does try defending the criticism from Rachels by arguing that what does make things to be really valuable is the fact that they significantly contribute to our general happiness, there is no doubt that happiness and pleasure remains not to be the only motivating factor for someone’s actions.

Cornman, James, et al. Philosophical Problems and Arguments – An Introduction, 4th
            edition Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1992.
Harwood, Sterling, “Eleven Objections to Utilitarianism,” in Louis P. Pojman, ed., Moral
            Philosophy: A Reader, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 2003), and in
            Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual, Wadsworth
            Publishing Co., 1996, Chapter 7.
Rachels James and Stuart Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. McGraw Hill
            Higher Education; 6th Revised edition (August 1, 2009) ISBN 978-0071267830

Tags: , , , , , ,

Posted in Philosophy

Leave a Reply

Powered by PalmsoftTechnologies.