Utilitarianism the Fall Term Paper

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The Fall of Utilitarianism or Is Ignorance Bliss?

The fundamental dictum of Utilitarianism is the moral, ethical and even divine altruism that human beings are supposedly capable of. Unfortunately a dependence on the virtue of altruism is often revealed as only a thinly disguised motive for personal gain in some form or another. While Blanche DuBois often depended on the kindness of strangers, she often did not make out very well, and most of those strangers that offered assistance usually wanted something in return. While the pleasure principle is certainly an operational force in the destiny of every animal on the planet, human beings included; there is no grasping for higher more noble pleasures, as Mills would have us believe. These are the grand gestures of nobility and politicians running for office, and not the makings of a practical philosophy.

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In order to understand this argument we must define what pleasure / happiness is both psychologically and biologically. Both have a very relevant impact on our thought processes, after all who can truly separate brain and mind? Biologically speaking pleasure is generally regarded as a stimulus that releases endorphins in the body, these connect to receptors in the brain giving human being the feeling of pleasure and the desire for more pleasure. There by evolutionary necessity, we are drawn to what pleases us in order to survive both as individuals and as a species. While seemingly altruistic in nature, the law of survival takes no weaker prisoners and is certainly a selfish and self-centered impulse, as the evolutionary principal survival of the fittest would point out. The species may continue but ethical and moral boundaries may be crossed. Some stimuli raise endorphin levels more than others do. Sexual encounters, for one, rate very high on this scale. Understanding this biological imperative for pleasure, how do we reconcile that with the higher order pleasure, the altruistic happiness that Mills proscribes?

TOPIC: Term Paper on Utilitarianism the Fall of Utilitarianism or Is Assignment

Human beings like to think of themselves as very complex organisms with a complicated psychological makeup. Language certainly has added to that conception and language often helps to shape it as well. Citing the rather sloppy syllogism that Mills uses, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides." (Mills)

Here we have the more regal concept given to men of learning and not necessarily of experience. After all a pig may have traveled more extensively than a given man and a sailor certainly more extensively than Socrates (although he did travel quite a bit). It is the hubris of knowledge, for Mills, that creates the search for higher more lofty pleasures and not necessarily any "common man" experience. So while Mills claims experience is the way in which man judges between lower and higher pleasures, it is really knowledge and reason that are the arbitrators of this technique. In a sense then, it is description that Mills is talking about and not necessarily definition. This is more in line with the Aristotelian view that happiness is more a term meaning well-being or correct functioning for a man's full capacity.

Pleasure, on the other hand, has a wide spectrum and happiness, must by definition, be a particular trait and not so universal a concept with degrees and scales of comparisons that apply equally to a white upper class Englishman as well as a member of a Royal Dynasty in China. As with many philosophers and scientists, Mills tends to be ethnocentric and even egocentric to think that his pleasure principle could be applied so universally without cultural considerations. The more pejorative inference is also that the "common" pleasures not only produce less "higher" happiness but may also be detrimental to the overall well being of the individual and the species as a whole. Yet simple men with simple pleasures are often more at peace.

This brings us to the other Millsian dilemma. The more knowledgeable (or via Mill's a.k.a. Experienced) a man is the more difficult it becomes to actually find a pleasure that can lead to true, or ethical, happiness. Is this not saying that the more complex a system of knowledge becomes the more convoluted any information becomes as well? For instance, in Mills' own words:

The great majority of good actions are intended not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals, of which the good of the world is made up; and the thoughts of the most virtuous man need not on these occasions travel beyond the particular persons concerned, except so far as is necessary to assure himself that in benefiting them he is not violating the rights, that is, the legitimate and authorized expectations, of any one else. (Mills)

Mills' language itself tends to distract from a more precise analysis of the situation. Rules and regulations supercede the natural instinct. Desire is replaced by dogma. Do people actually desire this higher and better pleasure, or is it something that has been programmed by language and custom? The more complex the custom the more daunting the attainment of the pleasure. To the work oriented Christian ethic, this certainly has some appeal and is reasonably placed in Mills' philosophy. So perhaps, Ignorance is Bliss and is not Bliss the highest of pleasures? The transcendentalist would heartily agree.

There is also an antagonistic property inherent in Mills' philosophy of Utilitarianism that needs to be noted here. Once one goes about setting standards, for example that my pleasure and happiness is better than yours, one begins to view the other as less than and not equal to ones own standard. This creates and enemy and sets up the whole of civilization against one another. This prejudice of pleasure is an intrinsic quality of Utilitarianism that Mills does not speak about. Again, the ego- and ethnocentric nature of his analysis is largely to blame for his tunnel vision in this regard.

One objection that may be posited to this argument is the need by the civilized world to cultivate an interest in striving for these higher and more lofty pleasures that have the good of mankind in their outcomes and not simply the pleasure of a single individual. To this Mills constructs his objection:

Both in feeling and in conduct, habit is the only thing which imparts certainty; and it is because of the importance to others of being able to rely absolutely on one's feelings and conduct, and to oneself of being able to rely on one's own, that the will to do right ought to be cultivated into this habitual independence. In other words, this state of the will is a means to good, not intrinsically a good; and does not contradict the doctrine that nothing is a good to human beings but in so far as it is either itself pleasurable, or a means of attaining pleasure or averting pain. (Mills)

Here is expressed the need for man to cultivate these higher pursuits in order to benefit mankind as a whole. To look for the higher pleasure and attain true happiness.

After all what is the point of civilization and rules if not to achieve this end. And this is exactly my counter argument to this position in regards to pleasure in Utilitarianism.

If pleasure is unambiguously the supposed ultimate concept for all of goodness, than it should be any pleasure that achieves this goodness and not some scheme of pleasure laid out in a series from one to ten. Therefore in reality pleasure cannot be this ultimate standard and it is not really pleasure that Mills is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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