John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism General Remarks Book Report

Excerpt from Book Report :


In the opening remarks to Utilitarianism, Mill sets the stage for this discussion. He accepts that the idea of utilitarianism dates back two thousand years, and is part of a philosophical discourse that has never been resolved. He then explains the prevailing thought that moral laws are considered universal, deriving from the same source. Their evidence is a priori in that they are simply assumed to be correct. These laws, however, lack a fundamental rule, something that is the root of morality, that should be self-evident. Mill is staking out a position that there is no such fundamental rule, and that this is a defect.

Mill then argues that utility, as described by Bentham, is where happiness derives from, and that this ultimately influences decision-making and morality even among those who reject the idea and attempt to base their moral standards on another universal code. Mill does not explicitly say in his preamble that the other standards are rooted in religion, but this is his underlying message, especially when he charges that there is no definable, underlying law on which morality can be based. He stakes out a position directly opposite Kant, a framing that we still use today, and notes that Kant "fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings the most outrageously immoral rule of conduct."

The final section of the opening remarks points out some of the difficulties even in utilitarianism, for example the idea that something is "good" can be difficult if not impossible to prove, noting examples of one's healthy, or music. In this way, Mill sets…

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