For example, does one really have to think about ethics while they are grocery shopping? Well, perhaps if one is thinking of cutting in line or taking the last shopping cart when there is an elderly woman who will be stuck with a basket.
Aristotle's virtue ethics said that people have to hone their virtues and this is a nice thought. He believes that everyone is born with the inherent tendency to do good, but people have to work on it just as one might have musical ability, they still must train in order to become a professional. Just because we think that we are ethical, good people (and we probably are) doesn't mean that we don't have to work on being better. This is also quite a nice theory, however, utilitarianism is still the best way for one to lead a happy, right life, because, once again, it forces people to put others at the front of the picture rather than oneself.
Utilitarianism would not say that if a person lied to another one that it had to be made a universal law, as Kant would, and this is probably good since, in general, lying to others is bad. However, what if lying to someone was for the greatest good? What if lying protected the person from something? If you knew that if you didn't lie to someone your husband would be killed (this is an extreme example), would you not lie? Most people would lie to protect the people they love, but what if that person is a stranger? Kant said lying was always bad. Most people would lie even to save a stranger (most people). The notion that most people would lie to save a stranger is a testament to the fact that people are generally good. This is also a nice thought.
Under utilitarian ethics, this would be permissible because you have contemplated and deliberated about what would cause the greatest amount of suffering and the least amount of pain.
Utilitarianism seems to be the best ethical theory, as put forth by Mill, because it forces us to do something that Mill thought was incredibly important: reason. When we reason we are essentially exercising our freedom and this is what Mill believed made such a great and diverse society. Reason also didn't allow people to come together and control others (tyranny of the masses), but that is another topic. Overall, Mill said that reasoning was good and utilitarianism forces us to reason and really examine what the consequences of our actions will be. We can then weigh them out and decide whether they are good or bad and which will promote happiness to the greatest extent and which won't.
Overall, utilitarianism is the best because it places other people and their benefit over self-interest. This is not to say that people don't have the right to make themselves happy; but, the beautiful part about utilitarianism is that by putting other people's well-being at the forefront, it does make us happy in return and it breeds a kinder world where other people might do the same. Think of the difference in the world if everyone practiced utilitarian habits.
Being happy in life isn't all about oneself. Aristotle's virtue ethics are nice because they teach people to work on their virtues, but it doesn't tell us to put others before ourselves. Some may disagree and say that by honing our virtues like Aristotle instructed, we are honing virtues that will benefit others, but still the emphasis is in the wrong place.
To live a good and rightly life, we have to accept that we are just a small part of a much larger community. Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville (a philosopher who influenced Mill) believed that we had to think about our soul as the world's soul and this is why utilitarianism is so beautiful. Utilitarian theories can teach us to reason, to contemplate, to think about others before ourselves -- and all we can hope for is that others do the same.
Callahan, Daniel. "Moral Theory: Thinking, Doing, and Living." Journal of Social
Philosophy,20(1-2), 1989, 18-24.
Smith, Steve. Ways of Wisdom. University Press of America,…