John Stuart Mill: Greatest Happiness Principle Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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John Stuart Mills Utilitarian Philosophy came to be known as the greatest happiness principle. It begs the question; what is happiness? Mill thought that the purpose is life is for the experience of pleasure and freedom from pain and that every action must be measured against this paradigm. Yet just like any other perspectives, Mills utilitarianism encounters criticism, one of which focuses on the meaning and realization of happiness. Mill however, conscious of the critique implied in his foundation of morality that humans are higher beings than animals or any other species, therefore have higher faculties and appetites.

From this standpoint, the argument that men might choose actions that are irrelevant or offensive to other people in the light of satisfaction is rebuked. The source of pleasure and content of the swine could never be the same as that of a human. There is a given superiority of the mental pleasure over bodily ones among utilitarians, and this he maintains. Any act of men which rightly makes him a lower class of being is assumed to be avoided by the latter, as he would not allow himself to shrink into a lower kind of person or being that he is.

He attributes this to a sense of pride, or the love of liberty and independence and dignity which he believes, every man possesses in one form or another. Apart from his notion of human domination over other living things, he nonetheless admits that men are capable of choosing and doing bodily pleasures that may be treated less valuable than another. This is true in instances when men have preferred alcoholism despite the knowledge of its negative repercussions in exchange for mens bodily pleasures derived from the activity.

He contests ergo that such incapacity for the nobler feelings is due to the nature of the latter, like a tender plant that is easily killed by hostile influences especially among the young people when the environment is not favorable to keeping that higher capacity in existence. This idea is perhaps a noble addition to the claims of utilitarianism: ¦the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agents own happiness but that of all concerned¦

This makes the values of utilitarianism compatible to other religious norms which states, To do as you would be done by and To love your neighbor as yourself. Hence, an important policy suggestion emerges in the fulfillment of utilitarian morality code; that laws and social structures must institute ways to make the interest of every individual one and the same as that of the whole; and that the association of one person to the happiness of the others must be realized through the utilization of the power which education and opinion embody.

In the end, a few lessons have been learnt from Mill; the notion of the universal happiness; the possibility of harmony of interests; and then necessity of policies for the success of his scheme. The same flow of arguments run in Mills speech in 1868 in favor of capital punishment. To him, the punishment by death is most desirable for a person who committed heinous crimes such as murder unless there is a probability that the action was undertaken due to factors outside of the character of the individual.

He also looks into the essence of conviction in the community relevant to his, practical power depends far less on what it is than on what it seems. He counters the amendment of capital punishment and the transition to lifetime imprisonment as he believes the former is more effective in the light of preventing the innocent from indulging in similar crimes. What seems to the public a dreadful death accrued in capital punishment is for Mill less important than the implementation of his penal justice which seeks to deter by suffering from inflicting suffering.

John Stuart Mills principle in the final analysis have contributed much to our understanding of mans greatest happiness, a justification to existing laws and the value of education.


Ebenstein, William. Utilitarianism. Great Political Thinkers, 6th Edition. Singapore: Thomson Wadsworth, 2000. Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism and the 1868 Speech on Capital Punishment

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