By Henry R. West
John Stuart Mill was once the best British thinker of the 19th century and his well-known essay Utilitarianism is the main influential assertion of this philosophical technique. Henry West's advent to utilitarianism serves as either a remark to, and interpretation of, the textual content.
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Extra info for An Introduction to Mill's Utilitarian Ethics
H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart. References to this work in this chapter will be given in the text in parenthesis, with the page of this edition followed in brackets by chapter and section numbers. 22 P1: JPK CY255B-04 0 521 828325 September 18, 2003 13:44 Mill’s Life and Philosophical Background chapters announce the most general utilitarian principles; the remainder of the text begins to work out the way in which these would be applied to criminal law. Mill, in his essay, is concerned more with morality than with law, but, as does Bentham, he holds that the same principle of utility is the foundation for both.
I say of every action whatsoever; and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government” (12 [I, 2]). Bentham thinks of happiness as simply a sum of positive pleasures and negative pains: “A thing is said to promote the interest, to be for the interest, of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures: or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains” (12 [I, 5]). An action conformable to the principle of utility can be regarded as one that ought to be done or at least as not one that ought not to be done; it is a right action or at least not a wrong action.
If pleasure and pain determine what we shall do, it seems unnecessary that they should point out what we ought to do. However, choices of actions produce results that range over time. It is possible for an agent to choose acts that sacrifice immediate pleasure for the attainment of greater pleasure in the future, and, vice versa, it is possible to choose an immediate pleasure that results in the loss of greater pleasure in the future. It is similar for pains and for the conflict between pleasures and pains.
An Introduction to Mill's Utilitarian Ethics by Henry R. West