Mill's Utilitarianism

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Mill’s main argument is that consequences of an action are the sole criterion of its rightness and wrong, but that is not completely true as other things besides consequences matter as well. Mill argues that consequences of an action are what determine whether the action is morally right or wrong. In his views, the object of all the actions is to increase happiness and reduce pain or unhappiness. If the end result of an action is, increase in happiness then the action is morally right, but if as the result of the action happiness is reduced it is morally prohibited. It is only the consequence of an action that matters nothing else is of value. To state it in Mill’s own words, “The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable, and the …show more content…
The strongest critique of Mill’s Utilitarianism is given by H.J. McCloskey. He asks his readers to indulge in a thought experiment. Suppose, he said, riots are about to occur in a racial society because of the crime committed by a Negro. However, if a particular innocent Negro is charged with the crime it would stop the riots and lynching. A utilitarian would have no choice but to conclude that he must bear false witness against that particular Negro to stop the riots and lynching. Though, falsely accusing a Negro will undermine the happiness, but this reduction of happiness would be outweighed by the prevention of riots and lynching. In the calculation of a Utilitarian like Mill, the utility of saving the peace of the society is more important than the life of an innocent man. As the example illustrates, simply the consequence of an action cannot be the only determinant of morality. Utilitarian morality can go against the distributive justice and this cannot be right. The life of an innocent man cannot be sacrificed just to enhance the utility or happiness of a society. So, as Rachel puts it, “Thus, an ethical theory that says utility or consequence is the whole story cannot be right.” (Rachels …show more content…
consequence and ignored the backward-looking reasoning. Suppose someone made a promise to his friend, but then he realizes that not fulfilling the promise would slightly outweigh the utility of keeping the promise. In Mill’s calculation, the person should break his promise. He is not only morally permissible to do so; it is his moral obligation to do this as it would increase the end utility. But this cannot be right; the fact that he promised to his friend puts an obligation upon him and a little increase in utility cannot exempt him from it. The crux of the argument is that backward-looking considerations are also important in defining the morality of an action. So, Mill’s argument that consequences are the only thing that matters, is again seems incorrect.
Mill is not incorrect in assigning the importance to the consequences of an action. Consequences of actions play a crucial role in determining the moral permissibility and prohibition. The problem with Mill’s argument is that he described consequence to be the only thing that matters and ignored every other thing. In the opinion of Rachels, this strict approach of Mill’s Utilitarianism “is at odds with such fundamental moral notions as justice and individual rights, and it seems unable to account for the place of backward-looking reasons in justifying conduct.” (Rachels

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