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John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of Happiness Essay

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John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of Happiness

Along with other noted philosophers, John Stuart Mill developed the nineteenth century philosophy known as Utilitarianism - the contention that man should judge everything in life based upon its ability to promote the greatest individual happiness. While Bentham, in particular, is acknowledged as the philosophy’s founder, it was Mill who justified the axiom through reason. He maintained that because human beings are endowed with the ability for conscious thought, they are not merely satisfied with physical pleasures; humans strive to achieve pleasures of the mind as well. Once man has ascended to this high intellectual level, he desires to stay there, never descending to the lower level of
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In Utilitarianism, Mill noted, “utility includes not solely the pursuit of happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness” (Mill 12).

The pursuit of pleasure has also been condemned by critics as being little more than the promotion of one’s own interests, with no regard to the happiness of others. Mill disputes this as being narrow-minded, clarifying that the pleasure principle which forms the foundation for utilitarianism, “what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned” (Mill 16). With this acknowledgment, however, comes the criticism that people cannot possibly be motivated by something as satisfying the collective good of society. Mill countered this by pointing out, “The utilitarian morality does recognize in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others” (Mill 16). To the objection that pleasure is an acceptable end is contrary to Christian principles because it is “godless,” Mill states, “If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other” (Mill 21).

Mill’s pleasure principle was disputed by both philosophers and theologians because of its apparent lack of association to a code of morality. To this, Mill contended that there can
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