Utilitarianism and Happiness Essay

943 Words Nov 5th, 2005 4 Pages

In his book, J.S. Mill attempts to build on Jeremy Bentham's original idea of Utilitarianism. His definition of the moral theory is one that is grounded in Bentham's original work but also extends to include remarks to criticisms of Utilitarianism.
Mill believes that, like Bentham, utility is what is valuable to society. Utility, according to Mill, is the promotion of pleasure or the absence of pain. He defines this as happiness, which is why he refers to utility as the Greatest Happiness Principle (Mill 55). Thus, pleasure (or painlessness) is what society finds valuable. Because society finds happiness valuable, it must attempt to maximize total happiness. Mill describes that the presence of pleasure and the absence
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Critics of Utilitarianism state that Utilitarianism does not account for what society is responsible of reacting to an individual's action, at least explicitly. This conception may be partly a result of Utilitarianism having a strong focus on the repercussions of an individual's actions on society, and shedding little light on the reactions of society back on the individual. However, the idea that Utilitarianism fails to take consideration in whom to blame and praise is primarily a result of what J.J.C. Smart describes as neglect of a distinction between utility of action and utility of praise. However, J.J.C Smart begs to differ:
"…we come to like praise for its own sake, and are thus influenced by the possibility of being given it. Praising a person is thus an important action in itself – it has significant effects. A utilitarian must therefore learn to control his acts of praise and dispraise, thus perhaps concealing his approval of an action when he thinks that the expression of such approval might have bad effects, and perhaps even praising actions of which he does not really approve. (Smart 49-50)
Smart says that praise is highly influential in regards to a person's actions because receiving praise is a means towards achieving happiness. Thus, a utilitarian will desire to commit actions that come with praise. Because of this when one praises, he promotes the action. Since promotion can condone the

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