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Are Utilities The Base of Morality: Literary Analysis of Mill's Argumentation

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Mill describes how utilities are the basis for morality. He describes this as the greatest happiness principle, saying that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong in proportion as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill 5). By linking actions to happiness, Mill links happiness to morals. He believes something is good, or moral, if it makes people happy, and bad, or immoral, if it makes people unhappy. In addition, Mill clarifies that happiness can mean pleasure or lack of pain, and unhappiness can mean pain or a lack of pleasure. This is important because it includes things in life that might not be seen as pleasurable or unpleasurable, so it eliminates any gray area. Mill further defines pleasurable and free of pain as “things that are desirable as ends” (Mill 5). By defining everything as desirable or not, there shouldn’t be any gray area left.

Mill’s principle of greatest happiness seems to fit with our idea of reality because it’s simple. It’s easy to classify anything as desirable or not, so it turns the complicated task of defining morality into an easy one. In general, most people would agree that morals are desirable, so Mill suggests anything that’s desirable must be moral. On the other hand, this could be a flaw in Mill’s principle as well, similar to the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something desirable because it’s moral, or is it moral because it’s desirable? Mill asserts the latter. Another problem with Mill’s principle could be that it ignores the fact that the theory is dependent on the individual, because some people may have different ideas or perspectives when it comes to what’s desirable and what’s not. I’ve said that it’s easy to classify things as desirable or not, but different people may classify things differently.

One criticism of Mill’s theory is that it reduces the human mindset to that of a pig; if we act only in a way to gain pleasure, then we’re no better than swine. Mill responds that humans do act in a way only to gain pleasure, but our sense of pleasure goes much beyond that of a pig. He says, “the accusation implies that human beings are capable only of pleasures that pigs are also capable of” (Mill 5). Because humans can desire things such as nobility of virtue and to live a fulfilling life, we maintain an existence that is not comparable to swine. Even though humans and swine both desire pleasure, our ideas of pleasure are much more that wanting food and rolling in mud.

I believe Mill’s reply to this objection is convincing because I agree with his position that the argument overlooks the type of desires humans have. Comparing the fact that humans and swine both act on desires is not a valid comparison because those desires are different. Mill focuses on intellect and feelings of imagination, which cannot be compared to swine, making the objection invalid.

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Are Utilities The Base of Morality: Literary Analysis of Mill’s Argumentation. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from
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