“Utilitarianism” is the ethical doctrine, which essentially states that which is good is that which brings about the most happiness to the most people. John Stuart Mill believed that the decisions we make should always benefit the most people as much as possible regardless of the consequences to the minority or even yourself. He would say all that matters in the decision of right versus wrong is the amount of happiness produced by the consequences. In the decisions we make Mill would say that we need to weigh the outcomes and make our decision based on that outcome that benefits the majority. For Mill, pleasure is the only desirable consequence of our decisions or actions. The Judeo-Christian ethic embraced by Augustine places questions of right and wrong under the authority of a divine creator – God. The Judeo-Christian ethic can be summed up in one word – Love. In Matthew 22:40 Jesus says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love you neighbor as yourself.”
Utilitarian desire the greatest happiness as an end, their commitment is to pleasure. For Mills, happiness is the desired end regardless of the means. In the process of forming a decision the Utilitarian must consciously weigh outcomes for the greatest happiness.
John Stuart Mill plainly laid out what he believes that the basis for ethical decision-making. First, the pursuit of pleasure is directly related to happiness. This idea can be easily accepted. It is natural for a person to focus his goals on things that will bring him pleasure. It would be absurd if someone’s goal in life were to be poor and starving. This being said, it does not mean that people are only happy due wealth but that no one’s goals are focused on poverty. Although there are many issues that can be agreeable with Mill, there are problems that exist with his theory of utilitarianism. First, Mill says that all ethical decisions should be based on pleasure. This statement becomes questionable when Mill states that pleasure is the sole requirement for happiness. Pain indirectly effects happiness. Pain is an indirect factor because is not the object of one’s happiness, but is an obstacle which one must overcome to gain it. If one is to avoid all pain in his or her life, then how will that person truly know what true pleasure feels like? True pleasure comes only after experiencing pain. If a person always wins a race, does he or she feel true pleasure each time they win or does it turn into a feeling that they come to expect? Pain can ultimately cause pleasure, and in some cases the presence of pain will increase the feeling of happiness.
Mill justifies the pursuit of pleasure by saying “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” This statement is not universally true. People have different perspectives, what is pleasure for one could be pain for another. Who is right and is wrong? A problem evolves because there is no set definition pertaining to what is pleasurable therefore right and painful therefore wrong.
If one performs a moral action, but has immoral intentions, that person should not be considered ethically correct. To be truly right and happy, one must not only act but also think right. Mill suggests that pleasure should guide our decision-making. While the statement is true, it is not fully correct. If a person will deal with pain that come from hard work, dedication, and perseverance, then the benefits will be that much sweeter.