An action, in the theory of utilitarianism, is considered right when in the course of the action it promotes an overall happiness void of pain – defining morality by its decision or action and its probable outcome on those affected – the action is considered ‘wrong’ if it promotes the opposite. A person’s actions are right when the action creates the greatest good for the most amount of people. An example of utilitarianism could be explained within a hostage situation – if twenty people have been taken hostage, and the hostage taker is shot or taken into custody, those actions and/or decisions against the hostage taker promoted the greatest good for those being held hostage. According to utilitarianism the moral worth of an action (in this case arresting or killing the hostage taker) is determined only by its resulting outcome (the release of the hostages safely). Arguments, however, arise over how much consideration should be given to actual, foreseen, and intended consequences.
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The doctrine of swine objection “takes the utilitarian doctrine to be unfit for humans because it recognizes no higher purpose to life than the mere pursuit of pleasure”. This principle says that if utilitarianism is correct, people that have no higher objective than to have pleasure (minus pain) shows that people have the same goal in life as that of a pig. Mill’s response to the objection that Epicureanism is a doctrine only worthy of swine by arguing that it is in this objection that “portrays human nature in a degrading light” and not that of the utilitarian theory. Epicurus’ doctrine, which says, for humans, pleasure is the only inherently good thing in life while pain is profoundly bad, has been compared to Mr. Mill’s utilitarianism theory of right action. Mill argues that it is not reasonable for objectors to state that pleasure is only for swine because animals and humans have different capacities for pleasure; and says that if the accusations were indeed true that the rule of life could not be argued better for one than the other – and that it is in that comparison that is perceived as degrading. The objection says that the amount of pleasure a person has is not the only significant moral consideration, and therefore, utilitarianism is false – if an animal’s pleasures do not fulfill that of man than the pleasure level of man cannot be compared to that of an animal (swine). A person’s pleasure can be different in quantity and quality, according to Mill, whether on a higher or lower faculty it should always be weighted accordingly.
Mill also responds to this objection by first clarifying there are two types of pleasure – the first is pleasure of the body, which is a shared pleasure by both man and animal; the other is pleasure of the mind (imagination, intellect, moral sentiment, etc.) which is a pleasure specifically available only to man. Mill goes further by distinguishing a higher and lower level of pleasure, pleasure of the mind being higher than that of pleasures of the body, and that people have higher capacities for pleasure than animals. He holds Epicureans at fault (with the almost comparable Epicureanism principle) for not including these differences, only focusing on the physical pleasure. Epicurus equates pleasure to the satisfaction of a person’s desires, which is separated into the moving pleasure (process one takes to satisfy their desire) and what he deems as the best pleasure, static pleasure (state of pleasure after desire has been fulfilled). For example, eating ice cream is a moving pleasure, while the static pleasure would be the satisfaction one would receive after eating the ice cream.
In proving there is a difference between physical and mental pleasure, Mill asks which is more pleasant and which is more painful. People who are capable of enjoying, and have experienced both, are evidence (according to Mill) that pleasure of the mind is higher. It is in our pursuit of mental pleasures over physical pleasures that Mill’s suggests is a better way to reach a greater degree of happiness in life, and is more valuable toward health and mental satisfaction. Not only does Mill distinguish between mental and physical pleasures, he also distinguishes between quality of pleasures and quantity of pleasures. This distinction is Mill’s attempt at further improving on (Jeremy) Bentham’s thoughts on utilitarianism in which he states actions are determined by quantity of pleasure alone – adding quality of pleasure as another factor to be considered.