John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism

March 2, 2009

Book: Contemporary Moral Problems by James E. White (7th Edition)

Library Reference: N/A

Amazon Reference:


Quote: “Principle of Utility or the Greatest Happiness Principle, says that the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable, whether we are considering our own good or that of other people, is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible from enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality.”


This chapter talks about John Mill’s definition of utilitarianism. According to Wikipedia, “Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome: put simply, the ends justify the means. Utility, the good to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain). It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.”

Mill also discussed two concept of utilitarianism: rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism states that, “when faced with a choice, we must first consider the likely consequences of potential actions and, from that choose to do what we believe will generate most pleasure.” On the other hand, the rule utilitarian begins by “looking at potential rules of action. To determine whether a rule should be followed, he looks at what would happen if it were constantly followed.” The distinction between act and rule utilitarianism is therefore “based on a difference about the proper object of consequentialist calculation — specific to a case or generalized to rules.”

What I’ve learned:

  • Some facts about Hedonism
  • Why does Hedonism considered as ‘anti-happiness’?
  • Difference between Hedonism and Utilitarianism

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