The Principle of Utility

In John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, he describes and explains the principle of utility and its importance to morality. Mills also breaks down the difference between direct and indirect normative utilitarianism. Bernard William’s piece Critiques on Utilitarianism shows a different side of the idea providing a different valuable perspective. I will be exploring Mill’s view and relating his ideas to some of William’s critiques.

John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility provides us with a map to happiness. Mill’s speaks a lot of utility which means general well being or happiness. This principle of utility Mill’s mills speaks of is, also known as the First Principle or Greatest Happiness Principle. This principle means actions are right if they tend to promote happiness, and wrong if they tend to produce unhappiness. Unhappiness is pain and the lack of pleasure. This first principle says that when we perform good actions, we ultimately produce happiness.

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Mill makes an argument that the principle of utility is the first principle of morality. Morality tells us how we should act, this provides a guide to action, working to achieve a desired end goal. It is difficult to decide what is right and wrong so having a guide helps direct morality. Mill’s say’s that having such a foundation is fundamental for morality to have any legitimacy. This first principle leads toward moral progress. If happiness is the end goal of morality, moral action increases the amount of utility. Once happiness is recognized as the moral standard, natural attitude will nurture views that encourage utilitarianism.

In Bernard Williams A Critique of Utilitarianism he tells the hypothetical case of George the chemist who is in the midst of a moral dilemma. George faces the decision to work on weapons he does not support and slow it down, or decline the offer and let someone who will get it done efficiently step into place. A utilitarian would say that the building of weapons is George’s fault because he would be letting someone more effective take the job. George would be just as responsible for the things he failed to prevent. Utilitarianism removes thoughts of how someone would feel about the circumstance. In this scenario George would feel directly responsible for the work he would be doing to promote weapons. William’s argues that the utilitarian view for why George should take the job is wrong.

He explains the psychological effect on George in the long run would not create happiness if he takes the job. The utilitarian point of view disregards George’s feelings completely undermining utilitarianism in its purest form.
I agree with Mills and think that we should strive to create a world that brings happiness. However I also agree with Williams in that integrity and emotions should be valued and accounted for in the process. Because utilitarianism only thinks of the consequences it appears that George accepting the job brought about the best consequences. I however believe that it is importance to honor George’s conscience. It is because of this I fell more aligned with William’s argument. It is negligent to disregard the emotions of a person and only worry about actions. Utilitarianism teaches that integrity is not important. A persons integrity is instrumentally important in creating who they are. We all must chose the point that we will not cross and intercity plays a crucial role in this.

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