Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

Home Screenshot Tabelle Begriffe

Utilitarianism: is a doctrine of ethics which takes the assumed greatest benefit for the greatest number of affected people as the moral aim. See also hedonism, good/the good, preference-utilitarianism, rule-utilitarianism, ethics, morality, deontology, consequentialism, benefit.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Item Summary Meta data

John Stuart Mill on Utilitarianism - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 348
Utilitarianism/Mill/Höffe: Def Utilitarianism/Mill(1): (...) the view that the basis of morality is the greatest happiness, whereby happiness is to be understood in the concept of pleasure and the freedom from lust or suffering.
Because "pleasure" means hédoné in Greek, it is a hedonism.
MillVsBentham: In comparison to Mill's model, Bentham, it is striking that the second part of his utilitarian principle "the greatest number", for which the "greatest happiness" is to be sought, is missing here.
Freedom/MillVsBentham: For Mill as a passionate advocate of individual freedom, this deficit is hardly a coincidence.
Later in the text the formula "happiness of all concerned" does appear, but without Bentham's double maximization: "greatest" happiness of the "greatest" number. Because of this deficit, Mill does not deal with Bentham's suggestion and his considerable difficulties in calculating the sought-after collective well-being with a simple procedure, a "hedonic calculus".
1) The first and most significant change, qualitative hedonism, counters the accusation made against Bentham that utilitarianism is an ethics for pleasure-seekers. The British writer and historian Thomas Carlyle had sharpened it to the objection that utilitarianism is a philosophy for pigs (pig philosophy).
Bentham: According to Bentham's provocative aphorism that, with the same quality of pleasure, an undemanding child's play is as good as poetry, the qualitative differences between the various occasions and types of pleasure expressly do not count.
Höffe I 349
Mill: Against this vulgarized hedonism, Mill argues with the pointed counter-thesis that it is better to be a discontented Socrates than a satisfied pig. He emphasizes the different rank of the pleasures one can enjoy and at the same time the priority of scientific, artistic and humanitarian activities.
2) (...) in trying to prove the utilitarian principle, Mill rightly rejects the possibility of direct proof. For true principles are, per se, first sentences that exactly therefore cannot be proved. >Theory/Mill.
Solution/Mill: a) The core is the expression "desirable", which has two meanings. In an empirical-psychological sense it describes what people actually consider desirable and desirable, in a normative-ethical sense what they are supposed to assess.
Naturalistic Misconclusions/HöffeVsMill: If one interprets Mill's so-called proof as a logical deduction of the ethical meaning of desirable from the empirical meaning, there is obviously a "being-should" misconception.
VsVs: But since Mill in his
Höffe I 350
system of logic, whose last chapter, clearly distinguishes between being and shall, the so called proof can be interpreted benevolently as well: An ethics open to experience understands what is desirable in the sense of those enlightened people who know the different pleasures and prefer those which are higher-ranking in human terms. ((s)Cf. >Preferential Utilitarianism).
3) Is justice compatible with utilitarianism? Mill here acknowledges the existence of a natural sense of justice, but does not consider this to be an original, but a derived sense. To defend this thesis, he distinguishes between different views of justice, such as the imperative to respect a person's legally guaranteed rights, to give everyone what he or she deserves, and the ideas of impartiality and equality.
He then recognizes the traditional distinction between perfect (justice) and imperfect (charity) duties. Finally, he claims that having a right means having something that society should protect for no other reason than general utility.
Common Goods/Mill/Höffe: In this argument lies either the thesis that there can be no conflict between the collective good, general utility, and the rights of an individual, or the assertion that in the case of conflict the collective good takes precedence over subjective rights such as basic and human rights.
HöffeVsMill: Even if it serves the collective good, the right of an innocent person not to be punished, or the right of a suspect not to be tortured, must under no circumstances be violated.

1. J.St. Mill, Utilitarianism 1861

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Mill I
John St. Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, London 1843
German Edition:
Von Namen, aus: A System of Logic, London 1843
Eigennamen, Ursula Wolf, Frankfurt/M. 1993

Mill II
J. St. Mill
Utilitarianism: 1st (First) Edition Oxford 1998

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016

Send Link
> Counter arguments against Mill
> Counter arguments in relation to Utilitarianism

Authors A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   Y   Z  

Concepts A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   Z  

Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-19
Legal Notice   Contact   Data protection declaration