Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

A Question For Mill | October 28, 2008

By what measure are we to determine what consequences matter for an action? Utilitarianism is defined by the principle that an action is moral if it increases overall happiness, and decreases overall pain. But of course, an action today can cause immediate happiness but cause over the long term greater pain. Where do we draw the line and determine a person’s moral culpability?

There are several possible propositions, all of which would bolster utilitarianism, but Mill makes the fundamental intellectual mistake of simply assuming a fact, without ever clarifying or defining it. In his writings he clearly talks as if its obvious that consequences never foreseeable shouldn’t be considered when determining morality, but this shouldn’t be assumed. The fact that he doesn’t clarify it is almost a sort of narcissism, that he is talking about things too important to consider that. Even beyond that, the possible ways of supplementing utilitarianism to limit the chain of consequences measured, are not perfect, and still have holes that need to be defended.

So I guess I’d ask him about this, and in particular what his particular addendum would be to utilitarianism.

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2 Comments »

  1. This would be a very good question to ask Mill. Mill leaves the line for moral capability subject to a lot of questioning. Albert Einstein discovered E=MC^2 which was a brilliant discovery which he is praised for, but if he had not figured this out nuclear weapons would not exist and the world would be a much safer place.

    Comment by ccerne1 — October 30, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  2. very…very interesting..
    im still about to study Of Liberty
    but yes, his theory does intrigue me
    shed some more light !?

    Comment by batster — January 24, 2009 @ 4:41 pm


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I am a person. I am alive. I am capable of mechanical motion. My respiratory system is functional, as is my digestive, and circulatory system. My neurons operate.

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