Utililitarianism John Stuart Mill

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John Stuart Mill 1806-1873

  • Rejected Christianity

  • Believed that only consequences matter in making moral judgments


  • A consequentialist moral philosophy- one that judges actions in terms of the goodness or badness of their results.

  • Like Aristotle and Kant, Mill based his moral theory on reasoning and observation alone, not divine revelation.

Basic Insights of Utilitarianism

  • The purpose of morality is to make the world a better place.

  • Morality is about producing good consequences, not having good intentions

  • We should do whatever will bring the most benefit (i.e., intrinsic value) to all of humanity.

The Principle of Utility

  • The right choice is the one that results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

  • (9/11 plane and the life boat)

Need to be like a disinterested spectator.

  • The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, but remember, the few may include you.

  • He or she must selflessly give equal consideration to all involved, including him or herself.

  • One might be called to give up ones own life for the good of the whole.

Utilitarian Philosophy

  • Making moral decisions is a mathematical process of weighing probable positive and negative consequences.

  • The end justifies the means

  • No act is evil if the good that results is sufficiently greater.

Utilitarianism vs. Kant

  • Desert Island Example

Utilitarianism and Christianity

  • Situational ethics is defined as choosing the most loving response to each individual situation by evaluating the consequences.

Utilitarianism assumes

  • We have no bias or blind spots

  • We are not affected by any negative cultural values

  • We never rationalize our actions to be able to do what we want

  • We have nothing left to learn

  • We can see all of the short term and long term effects of our actions on ourselves and society.

This assumes:

  • That we are omniscient or all knowing!!!!

  • Genesis 3:5 “For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing for yourself what is good and evil.”

  • Original sin: disobedience, due to pride, that results in self-righteousness.

John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor

  • Circumstances or intentions can never transform an act that is intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act that is good or defensible as a choice.

What does scripture say?

  • There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just. (Rom 3:8)

Catholic Catechism 1756:

  •  It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

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