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Explain how Mill's account of Utilitarianism can be seen as both as building on and as
criticising the ideas of Bentham.
John Stuart Mill was born in 1806 and died in 1873 and like Bentham also brought
about social change, and believed that Utilitarianism superseded all other moral theories, if it
included the additions he made to Bentham's original ideas.
Mill's theory originates from only part of Bentham's theory which states that
utilitarianism is a teleological theory, which involves looking at the future effects or
consequences of an action, which therefore implies that it is the consequences which are
right or wrong, not the actions or motives. This means that an action should be chosen
because it creates the right consequences and not the wrong ones. Some consequences are
intrinsically good and it is these that we should maximise, this means that actions are only
good in an instrumental way ie the action that gets you the result.
Mill also agrees with the idea of hedonism, which refers to the idea that naturally
everybody experiences pleasure or pain. It claims that pleasure should be maximised as it is
intrinsically good where as pain is intrinsically bad and therefore should be minimised.
In addition to this the principle of Utility, also an idea of Bentham's, judges an action
by how useful it is in bringing about good consequences and not bad ones, again reinforcing
which is the right action to take. It involves aiming to gain the greatest amount of happiness
and identifies whose pleasure should be maximised in each situation. Everyone's happiness
should be taken into consideration equally, therefore an action is good if it produces the
effect that the majority of people's happiness is maximised and their pain is minimised within
a situation, even if this means you will suffer, as Mill says `It is not the agent's own greatest
happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness overall.' The reason for this is because it is
believed that if the majority of people experience happiness you benefit others, and yourself
as well as it being a social communal theory.
However where Bentham states that the right action to take is that which produces
the most amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain, Mill criticises this by saying that it
can be immoral if the suffering the minority is to the extreme. For example when Hitler sent
the Jews to the concentration camps he was harming the minority whoever there pain was
not maximising pleasure. Therefore he puts forward the idea of quality not just quantity. This
involves looking at the type of pleasure rather than the amount therefore maximising the
better mount of pleasure. To help understand the types of pleasure Mill describes higher
pleasures as the mental pleasures and the lower pleasures as being the physical ones, with
the higher pleasures being maximised. Yet this should only happen after an individual has
their basic needs.
Furthermore Mill builds on this by stating that you cannot harm a minority in order to
benefit the majority, because this would not necessarily be maximising the higher pleasures,
this is known as the harm principle. The only time you can harm the minority is if in result of
not harming them it will harm the majority, this looks at selfprotection. Finally Mill includes
a competent judge in his theory this is an example of someone who is trying to achieve this
life style and is someone who an individual can go to for guidance if they are unsure about
what to do. These all help prevent the persecution of the minorities.
Mill also criticizes Bentham's Act Utilitarianism which says that each situation is
unique and therefore one should always use the Hedonic Calculus, a tool used to measure
an action, as well as abandoning all rules of the land. Mill believes that this is impractical to
humans and that not all rules should be abandoned. This is because rules generally make the
majority of people happy as they create a better environment for the majority to live in. For
example the rule `you are allowed an abortion up to 24 weeks' should be kept as for those
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that gat unexpected pregnancies can abort creating happiness. However Mill finally explains
that a rule can be broken if by keeping the rule it involves harming the minority.…read more