Free Mill’s Happiness: An Oxymoron (?) Essay Example
Writing Response 1 Prompts
Philosophy 103.01: Introduction to Ethics
Washington State University
John S. Mill (1806-1873), as a philosopher, is famous for his Utilitarianism. He argued favourably for his Greatest Happiness or Utility Principle. He believed that the most number of people should benefit from the greatest happiness possible. Deriving good consequences out of everything is a utilitarian perspective. Making the world a better, if not best, place to live in is an general and ideal concept for utilitarians. Granting without accepting and for the sake of argument that Mill was right about his philosophical ideation of human happiness, I am also of the opinion that he was oxymoronically wrong for not including sadness as a possible avenue for the enjoyment of true or genuine happiness. In our earthly existence, without pain, there is no real happiness. As such, there are organizations whose motto runs as: No pain; no gain, which when taken to be true would most probably render Mill’s happiness weak.
Mill was mostly correct when he addressed the issue of happiness from a utilitarian perspective because he grounded his ethical theory to the maximization of happiness and the minimization or obliteration of pain. However, earthly beings, because of their infirm physical, mental and spiritual constitution, are also prone from enjoying or not fully enjoying happiness. Individuals can, at times, happy; at other times, sad. In many cases, they cannot be happy all the time because common-sense psychology would tell us that that is unnatural for human beings to be in constant ecstasy (that is, experiencing happiness throughout their lifetime). Hence, what people need is a moderation of happiness and sadness, let alone genuine pleasure.
Nevertheless, Mill’s happiness plays an optimal role in the determination of right and wrong actions based on the utility principle. If an action engenders happiness, it is right; otherwise, it is wrong. Nonetheless, some happiness, though genuine, are not what are needed all the time. People are affective, rational and, at times, illogical beings who may choose at some point to feel sadness, mourning, grief, inter alia. Just think of being happy for someone or most people who have experienced a terrible lost in their lives. It is undoubtedly silly to be happy with such misfortunes (such as losing a billion, losing a friend) and still be happy as a businessman and as a person. To be happy is to be happy for something that would make me reasonable happy to be such.
Furthermore, in line with Mill’s reasoning where the ways in which he qualified the Greatest Happiness Principle to be so, it is, in its entirety about the maximum happiness for the most number of individuals despite self- or minority sacrifice. Happiness, in such a Mill’s sense, is dissociated from “pleasure” in the derogatory sense by making a comparison between an individual (e.g., Socrates) being dissatisfied and a pig satisfied. For Mill, happiness is of significant value if it is by and in itself satisfactory. If not, it could be likened to promiscuity or casual and indiscriminate sexual relation between two adulterers. Individuals who are after sensual pleasure without regard to genuine or higher pleasures are acting like animals. Hence, Mill is right at this juncture to have equated counterfeit happiness to unjustifiable sensual pleasure, even when they concede to do an act of treachery against the other’s person spouse, for instance.
Contrariwise, I do not fully subscribe with Mill’s claims that our general acknowledgement that some action is better than another on the basis of the amount of happiness that it will bring to the world at large for it to make it sufficiently a right action. For example, slavery was formerly thought of by the civilized world as a right action. It is fine to find slaves owned by slave-masters whose will they impose to the against the former’s will. Slave owners break the freewill of their slaves because that is the easiest way for them to break their souls. Thus, intuitively in those eras, slave ownership may have been considered wrong action by some people, but not the majority (more especially so, in these postmodern era). Hence, I do not full concur with the criterion for right action here as it devalues individual freewill. For me, happiness should not only qualify to the majority, but also to a few individuals.
At this critical juncture, I can either think of an example that would forcefully demonstrate Mill’s GHP or that would call it into question. Attending to the basic needs of all people, as promulgated in the constitutions of most if not all countries worldwide, is a part of governments’ responsibility. To neglect even one of the least members of society that any government should serve is an act of government negligence. However, the government cannot attend to all individual needs given its limited resources. Thus, the government also needs the support of both non-governmental and private agencies, corporations and organization. If Mill was completely correct with his GHP, it would have meant unlimited resources for its fruition, which is simply next to impossible. There is no junction in history where there are no scroungers.
I strongly agree in supporting Mill’s happiness at some point and disagree with it at other times. Mill offered strong supports to his argument concerning human happiness. However, he neglected to consider that genuine happiness is only possible because of the presence of pain. Sometimes, what most people need is pain at some point in their lives in order for them to realize what they have forgotten to value most in their lives. It is not true that people should only look after the greatest happiness for the greatest number without consideration to the least of happiness that the least advantage members of society have longed wanted to enjoy. Thus, it should also be the other way around: The most number of people should learn the highest degree of sacrifice by sacrificing their own happiness for the sake of the most disadvantaged peoples.
Mill, J. (1879). Utilitarianism. London: Longmans, Green & Co. Retrieved on March 5, 2015 at < http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11224/pg11224.txt>.
Wilson, F. (2007). John Stuart Mill. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Retrieved on March 5, 2015 at <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/mill>.