Explain the main strengths of Mill’s Utilitarianism. (25) Mill argues that the pleasures of the mind should take precedence over physical pleasure and that once basic human requirements are fulfilled the primary moral concerns should be for higher order goods. Mill rejected Bentham’s Hedonic calculus because he believed that other values were needed to be taken into consideration when measuring people’s happiness like freedom and emotions. Seeing as Mill succeeded Bentham as a famous utilitarian, he obviously looked at the flaws of Bentham’s utility and tried to improve it.
Bentham believed that you should lead your life by bringing the least amount of pain to the least amount of people. This brings up the suggestion that Bentham therefore believes that in order to bring pleasure to the majority, the happiness of the minority isn’t important so can be discarded. This then brings up the question of equality, and is one person’s happiness more important than another’s? When Mill was faced with this question he deduced that the health and well being of an individual is very important and that when individuals are free to do as they please, they reach ends and the greatest number of people are happy.
If he agreed with Bentham then ideas such as slavery would still be allowed as it discards the happiness of the minority (slaves) to reach the happiness of the majority. Fortunately, Mill saw this major flaw and addressed it. Also, a major disagreement that erupted within utilitarianism is this: Do all pleasures count as the same, or is there a hierarchy or ranking order of pleasures with certain refined and distinctly human pleasures counting as much higher than other, lower, pleasures? Bentham held that all pleasures are the same.
It is still necessary to weigh pleasures, to multiply them by different numbers as you try to calculate the consequences of your action, but the criteria for the weighing of pleasures are subjectively felt intensity, duration, purity, and other considerations of this nature. Mill, on the other hand, disagreed. Mill thought that ‘it is better to be Socrates unsatisfied rather than a pig satisfied,’ whereas Bentham had famously opined that ‘push pin is as good as poetry’ – push pin being a mindless game for children. This is a way that Mill shows his splitting of pleasure into higher and lower pleasures.
The higher pleasures included intellectuality and pleasure of the mind, whereas lower pleasures are more like materialistic needs such as food and water. He believes that it is much easier to acquire the lower pleasures in comparison to the higher pleasures which require hardship and suffering to obtain. Mill understood that both higher and lower pleasures are connected, because in order to survive we must eat and drink, but when we fulfil that and are comfortable, we should always pursue intellectual gain rather than bodily pleasure.
Mill considers emotions a form of higher pleasure which is a strength because it can make the theory a little less impartial and allow more room for emotions. In the house on fire example where you could either save your mother or the world’s greatest surgeon, Mill could possibly allow you to save your mother arguing your emotions are a higher pleasure and since he gives no explanation of what to do if pleasures clash we could justify the saving of the mother.
This would appeal to more people because Mill’s idea of creating generalized rules makes the theory more objective and provides us a means to creating universal rules. Mill also used the Golden rule ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you. ’ This is followed in Christianity as Jesus taught it. Therefore, Mill’s utility is more appealing to Christians. It is controversial which version of utilitarianism is more consistent as an ethical theory. However, Mill has improved on Bentham’s faults, in his opinion, and improved utilitarianism. He has strengths to his ethics, but as everything does, he also has faults.