Utilitarianism and John Stuart Mill

According to John Stuart Mill, utility or the greatest happiness principle holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness (Mills 99). He believes the choice that will generate the greatest good for the greatest number would be the most ethical. Utilitarianism revolves around human happiness and pleasures and the avoidance of pain. Morally, an action is accurate if it leads to the right way of behaving in a certain situation for choosing the alternative that is likely to produce the greatest overall good.

From a utilitarianism standpoint, the ethical thing to do in the situation for Jim is to simply go with the option of shooting one of these Indians with the intention of saving the lives of nineteen individuals. If Jim chooses the route of shooing the Indian, he will, for the most part, cause pleasure for nineteen individuals and their families. If he refuses to shoot the Indian and all twenty die, he will cause pain for twenty people and bring pain to all of their families. According to Mills and utilitarianism, it will be better to bite the bullet and take the loss of the one individual over the loss of the entire group. Though, it could be objected that this is still immoral. Killing an individual is still unethical irrespective of the reason. At first, the choice seems clear to shoot the one Indian to let the others go free, but the answer is much more complicated than that. The moral beliefs of an individual are inconsistent.

Some people might argue that it would be better to choose the one individual and choose this path without hesitation. Others would argue that it would be best to rid themselves of guilt by not committing any crimes themselves. Others still would argue that by doing nothing would make them guilty by association. There is no one right or wrong answer to the question because everyone’s belief of ?morally right’ is different. There is no single path that is clearer in this case since we cannot comprehend the ethical values of each individual. Secondly, the given case is grounded on complex ethical conditions; from an ethical standpoint, the answer looks obvious. Jim is presented with a decision to decide whether it is better to kill one person or allow more than one person to die.

Certainly, it is easier to see how awful the outcome would be if twenty individuals are to be murdered when Jim could potentially prevent so much pain but does Jim really have the power here or do the captain and the henchman? The truth is, if Jim chooses to kill one of the Indians, he is allowing the captain and the henchman to persuade him to commit a crime he does not want to commit. He would be allowing someone to turn him into a murderer. If Jim refuses to kill one of the Indians, he is choosing the morally right path because no matter who kills the one Indian, the henchman or Jim, the action is horrendous and morally wrong.

Therefore, Jim should choose to not kill the Indian and stay out of the situation completely. I think he should stand up to the captain and maybe hope that this act of defiance could lead to the captain changing his mind about this situation altogether. If he stands up to them and tries to persuade them that the act of killing twenty innocent individuals will do nothing to solve the problem of the Indians revolting against the government. He may, in turn, get killed himself, but at least he would not be facilitating situation and committing a crime himself. In conclusion, utilitarianism is based on the belief ethical decisions should be made in regard to helping people and as opposed to harming them. People with the highest moral value lead the most ethical lives. Therefore, as long as you keep the needs of others in mind in every decision utility can always be reached.

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Utilitarianism And John Stuart Mill. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved September 19, 2021 , from
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