Millsian Utilitarianism (Latesha Webb)

John Stuart Mill’s was a British moral philosopher during the 19th century. Mill focused much on moral and political philosophy. In Mills utilitarianism he believes that one should assess people, actions and institutions based on how well they promote human happiness. In the writing the author states that Mills states “The desire, therefore, of that power which is necessary to render the persons and properties of human beings subservient to our pleasures, is the grand governing law of human nature”. He believes that any act is right if it promotes happiness and pleasure. Mills believes the utilitarian idea that duty or right actions needs to be defined in terms of pleasure of happiness. The author defines the following terms:

  • Direct Utilitarianism: Any object of moral assessment (e.g. action, motive, policy, or institution) should be assessed by and in proportion to the value of its consequences for the general happiness
  • Any object of moral assessment should be assessed, not by the value of its consequences for the general happiness, but by its conformity to something else (e.g. norms or motives) that has (have) good or optimal acceptance value.
  • Act Utilitarianism: An act is right insofar as its consequences for the general happiness are at least as good as any alternative available to the agent.
  • Rule Utilitarianism: An act is right insofar as it conforms to a rule whose acceptance value for the general happiness is at least as great as any alternative rule available to the agent

Mill compared the differences and strengths between Act and Sanction utilitarianism. He also talks about Hedonism. Mill was growing up during the period of //Philosophical Radicalism // with Jeremy Bentham

**How Does This Relate to Class???*
In Class we have studied the different types of utilitarianism. We have talked about pleasurable and painful acts and how the act that is most pleasurable is the best act for a person. In class we have talked much about Jeremy Bentham and his beliefs.


  1. Whats the difference between act and rule utilitarianism?
  2. How can one decide how pleasurable an act is?

Answer to Question 2—Bethany Heldman
Pleasure is mostly an opinion based emotion. What I find pleasurable is not the same as what someone else will find pleasurable. If an act makes me happy and does not hurt me, it will have a high pleasure rate. An example of this is coloring. If an act only makes me happy temporarily or could end up hurting me it will not have as high of a pleasure rate. That is because later I will not be happy. An example of this is eating a large meal. While it tastes good and satisfies my hunger, by eating so much I will get indigestion of feel bloated. I decide how pleasurable an act is by the short term and long term consequences. The less amount of consequences, the more pleasurable the act is.

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