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Utilitarianism

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  18,928 ratings  ·  338 reviews
This expanded edition of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism includes the text of his 1868 speech to the British House of Commons defending the use of capital punishment in cases of aggravated murder. The speech is significant both because its topic remains timely and because its arguments illustrate the applicability of the principle of utility to questions of large-scale s ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 71 pages
Published June 15th 2002 by Hackett Publishing Company (first published 1861)
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Saarah Niña It's free on Amazon (the kindle edition)

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism is a classic exposition and defense of utilitarianism in ethics. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser's Magazine in 1861; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863.

Mill's aim in the book is to explain what utilitarianism is, to show why it is the best theory of ethics, and to defend it against a wide range of criticisms and misunderstandings. Though heavily criti
...more
Darwin8u
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
"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, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question."
- John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

description

I remember reading bits of Mill's Utilitarianism during a course of political philosophy and public policy when I was in college (my major almost 20 years ago was public policy). I have always been attracted to the b
...more
Ben Labe
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Here, Mill offers a thorough description and defense of his moral theory, proposing the greatest happiness ("utilitarian") principle as the unique first principle underlying all moral conduct. "The 'greatest happiness principle' holds that actions are right in proportion as they promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness," he argues. Happiness, Mill defines as "pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain." While this definition seems dubious at first, Mill d ...more
Claudia
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
In times of building walls and talk of re-foundation of the Republicanism (in many of the Republics of the early 21st Century), and a looming fourth revolution, whereby workers won't be as much exploited (as Marx would have it) but rather ignored and a pariah to the process of wealth creation, it is important to return to the basics. And in law, John Stuart Mill is well and truly part of the basics!
John Stuart Mill who is the son of (and tutored by) John Mill and Godson to Jeremy Bentham (who w
...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
For such an important work it is certainly short and sweet. Utilitarianism is an important ethical philosophy. The hedonic calculus is probably a big factor for policy wonks of most modern states (at least when they are functioning well). I certainly think in terms of public policy utilitarianism has a lot of advantages. Greatest good for the greatest number is a fairly good guide for running a liberal democracy. I think John Rawls in the 1970 improved things with the original position in his so ...more
Robert
Feb 04, 2011 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Connor
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This treatise by the famous British philosopher is a fascinating study into ideas about liberty. The main premise is that anything that does not harm anyone physically should be be legal. This conclusion is a fascinating one that went on to inspire many future liberals. The book is very brief but a very solid well written essay that does not dwindle on irrelevant stuff like so many other political writings from the 19th century. Overall, it gets a 4/5 from me.
Andrew
May 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Mill writes about Utilitarianism. If you've read any modern take on this ethical system, there's nothing new here. The first chapter is very long and boring - I guess back in Mill's time he needed to justify Utilitarianism over other ethical systems like the Christian Bible pleas - now we, probably due to Mill, Utilitarianism is a completely understandable concept and doesn't really need to be defending in contrast to religious morals.

The rest of the book is fun, and Mill shows his passion for
...more
Maureen
Aug 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: Dr. John Granrose
Shelves: philosophy
The greatest proponent of utilitarianism in modern memory is Dr. Spock of Star Trek fame. The fact that an essay written in the 1860s is still having an impact on contemporary culture speaks to the longevity of J.S. Mill's idea. It has fueled countless debates among students in philosophy classes, and in the general public. The Greatest Happiness Principle is certainly worthy of consideration, and Mill's treatise has probably figured into many people's calculations when weighing momentous life d ...more
Amy Armstrong
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Okay, I'm not sure what to say about this. It's like milk; it's good for you, but can leave you bloated and gassy and the cover is totally uninspiring. Most of the writing is equally uninspiring. I recommend 2 minutes of Utilitarianism followed by 20 minutes of Googling gossipy facts about Mill.
Marts  (Thinker)
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
By simple definition: utilitarianism - a doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or benefit a majority... this can be compared to that which is considered epicurean...
Mohammed Algarawi
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: luna-3rd-20s
Before I start talking about utilitarianism, let me tell you one thing or two about the philosopher who wrote this book.

John Stewart Mill was the son of the 17th century British philosopher James mill. And by taking full control of his son's educations and keeping him from associating with children of his own age, James Mill produced a prodigy who was said to have started learning Greek at three and Latin at seven. By the age of twelve young Mill was a competent logician, by sixteen a skilled ec
...more
Tyler
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The last chapter saved this book from a one-star rating. While it's still wrong in a whole, I believe that Mill makes very small but important points throughout the book. For instance, he realizes that equality, with a government, requires inequality because some have more power than others (i.e. the people in government). Overall, though, his "proof" of utilitarianism is weak. His analysis of other ethical theories are very topical and not in-depth. And lastly, the most annoying thing about thi ...more
Lisa
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: c19th, philosophy, britain
People who've studied philosophy are, IMO, the most interesting people with whom to share conversation. There's a kind of elegance about the way they put a case for an idea, and I like the way that while are open to dissenting opinions, they can demolish them in style.
Mills shows how it's done. Here and there he pours a little scorn, but mostly it's a classically intelligent, coherent, logical argument for the principle that when trying to decide on a course of action, one should choose the pos
...more
Vamsi Krishna kv
JS Mill ventures into the troubled waters of moral philosophy where very few have dared to tread in, to the shaky foundations of justice and tries to fortify it with his elegant principle of utility. Though he isn't the first one to propound the principle of utility, his meticulous efforts for laying it down with such clarity are much laudable
Gav451
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like a slightly smug and self righteous hipster wannabe I thought it would nice to read a philosophical classic, looking intellectually into the middle distance every now and again and making interested and thoughtful 'hmmmmmm' noises as I stroked my chin. What I needed were some cords, a pipe and a thick knit cardigan to really transition into a pseudeo-intellectual.

Its a short book as well so as far as I was concerned it was a win win. Finish quickly; be wise; bish bosh and back to the rubbish
...more
Melissa Smith
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is short but very challenging. I would suggest reading it over and over again until you have the "Eureka!" moment that will be life changing. It took me 7 reads to feel like I really got the gist of what John Stuart Mills was trying to express on ethics and happiness. In the end, I didn't agree with everything he thought but it touched me and I still think about it years later. Now that's what I call a successful book!
Benjamin
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophical
If you have utter antipathy toward Utilitarianism or consider it an impracticable or vague theory, you probably just need to read the work. Mill describes much more than the simplistic, mathematical view often attributed to him. I would venture that perhaps no other moral theory would better align with the general public's sentiment than Mill's. This is not to endorse the theory--I am not a utilitarian--but it is to say it is worth consideration, and definitely worth a careful read.
Lindsey
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interesting philosophy, and one of the most important informers of today's morality. It's surprising how much we refer to the ideas in the book, without even thinking about it. So many parts of public policy are grounded in it, from social welfare to cost-benefit analysis. It was really great to read the book and get more of an understanding about where we are today and where we came from.
Wendy Bertsch
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
The philosophy is solid, but Mill spends too many words defending it (admittedly probably quite necessary at that time.) I would have been interested in seeing more about how he saw it being applied.
Karl Hallbjörnsson
May 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
a moral theory written by a bourgeois political economist. conceptually from bentham. i dunno - not my fave.

*update, second read*

its shit
Otto Lehto
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mill's essay is a rambling thing of some beauty and of unquestionable merit.

Utiliarianism of his mentor Bentham is richly espoused and its principles defended.

Mill's version of the doctrine shows a kind of post-Enlightenment rationalist culmination of the long line of British sentimentalist moralists (Locke, Hume) and their synthesis with the principles of industrial design: calculations of utility are offered to replace the wishy-washy "feelgood" of more pastoral writers of the 17th Century. B
...more
Loni
Apr 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Re-read twenty years later. I think this only works on a small scale. Too many variables large scale. What is the greater good? Who decides? What are the factors that will change? I think it is a must read for twenty year olds with a vigorous discussion after.
thethousanderclub
Feb 16, 2016 rated it liked it
What can I say about a book like Utilitarianism? It's a book or treatise only a few will ever read. Normally devoured and debated by full time academics, I'm one of the odd folks who reads a treatise like Utilitarianism for pleasure and my own person gratification. John Stuart Mill's intellectual work can easily be compared to similar works like Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration, and of course Mill' ...more
Brandon
Jul 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mill inherited the mantle of Utilitarianism from his father, James Mill, and his godfather, Jeremy Bentham. Though he was schooled in it from a young age, in his later writing life he became no mere parrot of his forefathers' theories -- he critiqued, extended, and improved them.

Mill saw a fundamental flaw in Bentham's Utilitarianism: if what we must aim for is the greatest happiness of the greatest number, then this condition can be satisfied if the majority of society are sated and made happy
...more
Brian Powell
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, ethics
It's pretty hard to disagree with a moral system based on the greatest good for the greatest number, and Mill argues his case passionately. That said, I'm not quite ready to assail an innocent man in a hospital waiting room so that his organs might be harvested to save the lives a few wanting people in the ICU.

Consequentalist moral systems seem to suffer from a formidable complication regarding foresight, or the ability of people to understand the ramifications of their actions a priori. Mill a
...more
Erik Graff
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ethicists
Recommended to Erik by: David Ozar
Shelves: philosophy
During the first semester at Loyola University Chicago I enrolled in David Ozar's Ethics Survey course. Treated in that class was Natural Law Ethics, Deontology and Utilitarianism. Having never taken an ethics course before, I found the class and its readings quite interesting. I also found one of the presumptions apparently held by all the ethicists we read objectionable.

What I found questionable was as regards the matter of agency. Previous study of cultural anthropology, psychology and religi
...more
Brent McCulley
Again, Mill is so fascinating to read, but his ethical theory is so flimsy, cumbersome, and ungrounded, that it ultimately self-destructs on itself. Utilitarianism as a concept is so arbitrary, that although it was probably a new fascinating ethical theory during Mill's time, it has almost altogether been abandoned by philosophers of ethics today.

Who determines what the "good" is for society? What happens with the ultimate good - in order to achieve chief happiness for the greatest amount of peo
...more
Mario
This is about as dry as a box of century-old Saltines, but it does contain interesting ideas, if poorly and inelegantly expressed. I think Mill's basic stumbling block is in the transition between the rights and morals of an individual and the good of a society. He tries multiple times to make the connection, but he never manages to pull it off seamlessly. I got the feeling that even he didn't actually believe in the idea he was expressing on that point, only that the transition was necessary fo ...more
Nguyễn Trung
Jun 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a long time I have maintained that personal happiness is the ultimate end, or at least ultimate pursuit, of human life, and that every thought and action of human is but a means to achieve that end. This book by Mill not only affirmed my personal belief, but also provided excellent reasoning to back it up and refute various common objections. So good and complete was Mill's idea and reasoning that I felt a sense of defeat for my own idea's lack of originality and concrete foundation.

That sai
...more
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John Stuart Mill, English philosopher, political economist, civil servant and Member of Parliament, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. He was an exponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham, although his conception of it was very different from Bentham's.

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“It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify.

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, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.”
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“The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” 49 likes
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