Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics and Utilitarian Ethics, UtilitarianismJune 27, 2021
It was through Bentham’s colleague father, James Mill, that John Stuart Mill was introduced to the utilitarian tradition. James Mill, who highly valued Bentham’s views, played an active role in spreading these views to England and having a great impact.
When Mill, who was in touch with the utilitarian tradition with his father’s suggestions, noticed the deficiencies in the views he inherited, he tried to reinterpret the utilitarian thought in order to both examine the principles of utilitarian thought and eliminate the deficiencies in Bentham’s thought and to find a new motif that would form the basis of the doctrine he defended.
Mill, who took a stance against metaphysics in general and emphasized the world of facts and the superior value of scientific method at every opportunity, took psychology and logic as his main points and tried to form his views on these pillars. The ideas of enlightenment and progress, which are among the essentials of modernity, significantly influenced Mill’s own world of thought and allowed Mill’s views to be shaped, especially that knowledge and natural scientific methods should be effective in improving human lives (Thilly, 2007: 364).
Although Mill summarizes his basic idea about the inheritance with the statements “I accept the utility as the final decision maker in moral matters” (Mill, 1978: 10), the first thing he did about this legacy was the pleasure of those who served the utilitarian tradition, especially Epicurus and Bentham. It has been to get rid of the meaning he attributed to the concept and therefore the criticisms coming in this context.
Throughout the entire utilitarian tradition, the idea that ‘people move away from pain as much as possible and towards pleasure’ has prevailed. Pleasure, which is accepted as the only criterion regarding the moral dimension of the action, is defined as the ‘only good’, and it is argued that pleasure and pain can tell us what we should do in terms of our actions. Pleasure from happiness or the absence of pain is understood, everything aimed at reaching pleasure was deemed desirable. In this understanding, the principle of “everything that gives us pleasure is good” has been acted upon, but as a result of evaluating pleasures only quantitatively, human experience or life has been reduced to the level of animal existence (Cevizci, 2002:196).
When evaluated in this way, Mill argues that utilitarianism can only be a doctrine for pigs, and comparing life with the life of animals destroys human dignity. The pleasures of an animal are not sufficient for the happiness of the human being. Moreover, once man realizes that he has higher powers than animal appetites, he does not accept anything that does not satisfy these faculties as happiness (Mill, 1986: 12). emphasizes that he does not want to replace an animal.
According to Mill, the cornerstone in the evaluations of the selection of pleasures that should be subjected to a qualitative distinction is largely the choice of the person who experiences the pleasures. However, spiritual and mental activity and the superiority of things over material things cannot be ignored. As a rational being, humans have the right to choose between the pleasures they experience. This right may mean that some people may turn to and choose lower pleasures because of their own spiritual weakness or because these pleasures are more easily obtained. Mill summarizes this view with the following words;
“It is better to be a dissatisfied person than to be a contented pig; it is better to be an unhappy Socrates than a happy fool. If the pig and the fool disagree, it is because they know only one side of the matter (Mill, 1986: 15).”
After these evaluations of the concept of pleasure, Mill redefines the utilitarian understanding that he tries to eliminate his deficiencies with the following statements:
“Morality is a set of actions and principles that, when followed, offer a very rich life, both in terms of quality and quantity, to all human beings, not only to humanity, but to all sentient creatures as long as their nature is suitable (Mill, 1986: 19).”
As in all utilitarian understandings, in Mill’s doctrine, moral action and the sole purpose of life are happiness. Happiness, which is thought of as something that people desire, does not mean that pleasures go on and on. Because such a situation is impossible. The relationship between movement and stillness can be compared to the relationship between pleasure and pain in the note of the emergence of happiness. As a matter of fact, it can be thought that the prolongation of one means the preparation of the other.
In life, every person should be able to benefit from everything life has to offer, and even make an effort by wanting and expecting more. For Mill, who is content with what he has, he will deprive himself of a better life. In life, every person can find a source of interest that surrounds him and tries to make his life more valuable by trying in different ways. This is busy