Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Charlotte
  • Created on: 10-04-13 13:52

John Stuart Mill

  • 1806 - 1873
  • British philosopher,political economist,Member of Parliment. 
  • 19th century - Liberal thinker. 
  • Bentham -> godfather
1 of 9

Child Genius

Age 3 - taught the Greek alphabet & lists of Greek words. 

Age 7 - had read Aesop's Fables & highly adept at arithmetic.

Age 8 - began learning Latin & algebra. Schoolmaster of young family children. 

In his spare time he composed poetry, read natural sciences & popular novels. 

2 of 9

Rejecting Act Utilitarianism

  • Mill was also a hedonist & agreed with the principle GGFGN.
  • However, said happiness/pleasure was too complex & indefinite to be measured quantitatively

Pleasures of the mind were higher order pleasures & pleasures of the body were lower order pleasures. Higher order pleasures are preferable to lower order pleasures. 

  • Some necessary lower order pleasures - eating, drinking. 
  • When faced with moral dilemma you seek higher over lower order pleasures.

Competant Judge - someone who's experienced both sort of pleasures therefore can make a judgement of which pleasure to pursue. 

3 of 9

Pleasure is Qualitative


Mill was trying to say that people who constantly seek lower order pleasures are fools & that ignorance is bliss

'Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures.'

4 of 9

Harm Principle

Problem with the Hedonic Calculus - lower order pleasures could be justified when carried out by a majority on a minority.

 For example: violence from sadistic guards torture a wrongly imprisoned man. 

Mill proposed the harm principle.

This protected the minority when pressure is exerted by the majority. 

5 of 9

Rule Utilitarianism

Hedonic Calculus - allowed people to decide for themselves what was good or bad. 

Mill proposed general rules should be used as guides in decison making. 

  • If moral actions are guided by rules that everyone follows then this will lead to the greatest overall happiness.

Rules to promote happiness include: keeping promises,not killing. People should follow these and consider the consequence before carrying out an action.

6 of 9

Strong vs. Weak Utilitarianism

Rule utilitarianism divided into strong & weak rule utilitarianism. 

Strong - certain rules have universal value & should always be kept. ABSOLUTIST 

Weak - there will be exceptions to universal rules. SITUATIONIST/RELATIVIST.

7 of 9


1) Will always support the majority, therefore pleasing the most number of people. GGFGN principle. 

2) Rules which provide a framework for everybody in day to day life when making decisions.

3) Has no need for special wisdom

4) Rule utilitarianism is a response to some of the major objections to act utilitarianism

5) Rule utilitarianism should also make for quicker decisions over moral matters. Adopting an experience-proven rule to cover a number of acts rather than planning for each act as in the principle of utility. 

8 of 9


1) People's perception of 'strong' and 'weak' rule can be different. Judge what a universal rule is differently. 

2) Strong utilitarianism gives no room for exceptions,absolutist. 

3) Different types of happiness to different people. 

4) Disagreement between rule utilitarians as to whether in individual situations there might sometimes be grounds to break the rule in order to maximize utility.

5) The ‘rules’ for rule utilitarianism are very specific then rule utilitarianism begins to merge with act utilitarianism - therefore solving no issues. 

9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Ethics resources »