Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

The Attainment of Happiness (Section 2) | October 15, 2008

One objection against utilitarianism is that happiness is unattainable, and therefor you can’t base a moral theory on an infinite and unknown quantity. Mill points out the ridiculousness of this charge, because it fundamentally skews what utilitarianism is. It assumes that the ultimate utilitarian goal is to achieve total happiness, 100% of the time, and since this is impossible utilitarianism is then directionless. He points out that: A) utilitarianism is also the avoidance of pain, and so even if we can’t achieve happiness, there’s something to be said for trying to make life less loathsome; B) this Utopian view of happiness is completely false, precisely because it is unrealistic – utilitarianism is based on the realistic maximization of happiness and elimination of pain, as much as physically possible.

It’s also argued against utilitarianism that if people gain such lofty views about how happy they should be, they’ll become despondant considering how difficult it would be to make the world a happy, safe place. Mill points out that even if the world will always have more pain than pleasure, at least we can eliminate some of the pain, and if any pain is eliminated the world is that much better; also, that people adapt to their situation, and as long as they know they’re as happy as their circumstances allow, can be easily satisfied.


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1 Comment »

  1. I think you state it perfectly when you explain that Mill tries to tell readers that even if the world will always have pain and more pain than happiness at that, people are always striving to eliminate pain and therefore bring more happiness to the world which is obviously the number one priority in the eyes of a Utilitarian.

    Comment by mfarra — October 29, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

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