Happiness Principle




Ethicsand Values

JasonJenson Ph.D.

2015Apr 1

Critiqueof the

JeremyBentham talks about the principle of utility or the greatesthappiness principle that forms the cornerstone of his thought. Hetalks about happiness which he understands as the predominance ofpleasure over pain. He goes ahead to say that nature has placedmankind under the governance of two sovereign masters pleasure andpain. These determinants direct what people ought to do, and alsoregulate what they do. Bentham goes ahead to talk about the principleof utility and moral obligation in reference to the greatesthappiness for a considerable number of individuals who get affectedby an action. He presumes that social policies get evaluated fortheir effect on the well-being of the general population. Criminalpunishment is the best way to deter crime because it directly altersthe outcome of criminal behavior. It attaches the likelihood offuture pain in order to outweigh the apparent gain of committing thecrime. Therefore, the punishment is meant to fit the crime bychanging the likely perception of the value of partaking it.

Accordingto John Mill, another proponent of the greatest happiness principle,pleasure and freedom from pain are the only desired ends. All that isdesired gets preferred because of the satisfaction it provides,promotion of happiness or reduction of pain. However, he says thatthere are different kinds and intensities of pleasure. There arepleasures that are more desirable and valuable than others, and theamount of happiness is more vital than quality. He states thatactions that result in the opposite of happiness, for example, painare wrong. He considers all activities as contributing to the generallevel of pleasure in society.

Hegoes ahead to say that everybody should pursue happiness as the endobjective in life.

Anexample of how it relates to contemporary society is when a persongoes to school so as to obtain a diploma and get into college thenget an accurate degree for a particular job. He gets that job so asto earn income, and that income is then used to have a beautifulhome. A person has a beautiful home so as to put pleasurable thingsin it, and these pleasurable things bring happiness. All these thingsmerely lead to the ultimate end of happiness.

Unfortunately,this greatest happiness principle has flaws. Happiness cannot beguaranteed as continuous and with high pleasure. He says thathappiness cannot be considered as the main objective of human lifesince it is unachievable. Mill realistically agrees that happinessand joy can only last for a short time and with only a fewexceptions. Utilitarianism can be said to have concentrated onobtaining a life that has few pleasures in moments of variousdispleasures. In addition, people can be existent without pleasure,and all righteous people have ended up being virtuous by forsakinghappiness.

TheGreatest Happiness principle appears good in general, but alsocontinues to exhibit flaws as other ethical systems do. People havethe inability to forecast the future perfectly based on theiractions. Assuming that the future can be altered by people`s actions,the results that they wish for consequently do not end up being whatthey had envisioned. If unanticipated bounds can cause people`sactions to go wrong, even though they were making an attempt to actin harmony, with Utilitarianism, all people could be consideredimmoral as their results only led to pain. If this occurred toeverybody in the whole world, then nobody could be viewed as moral.

TheGreatest Happiness principle permits individuals to cause discomfortto others as long as the majority are happy. Accordingly, we could aswell just rip-off resources from the, smaller overseas nations anddrive them to scarcity as long as more persons are going to gain thanlose. Issues like bullying, racism, rape, slavery and murder could bewarranted under Utilitarianism so long as the majority has apreference for it. Murderers may also defend their action by killingall of those who oppose them. As the number of murderers growsbigger, slaying becomes justifiable. Finally, the Greatest Happinessprinciple disregards the procedure of the laws provided by theregime. So long as individual`s actions increase general utility,then the number of rules that get broken in the process doesn’tmatter. Individuals can go flying down the roads disregarding trafficsignals to their full gratification notwithstanding the speed limits.This could see only few people caring for others while the majoritywould be having a blast.

Itis also very erroneous to judge the goodness of an action by itsconsequence. A person inspired merely by greediness or vengeancemight pick out a course of action that makes the greatest amount ofpeople contented, begging the question does this make him a goodperson? More of interest is the likelihood of sadists whoseinclination towards tormenting others is so boundless that they cando whatever it takes to achieve happiness. The philosophy gives theimpression that the mistreatment and exploitation of minority groupsare fine if it gratifies the ruling majority.

Greatesthappiness according to Jeremy Bentham is comparative great, greater,and greatest. In this case, if an action creates happiness to thoseit affects, then no other action could have been taken then thatwould have led to greater happiness. As such, utilitarianism ends uphaving the advantage of providing an easy way in the making ofdecisions by simply considering the consequences of the variousactions and choosing the one that brings the greatest happiness(Hamilton, 2003).

Ruleutilitarianism on one other hand claims that actions are only rightif they comply with those rules which if everyone followed them, theywould lead to greatest happiness for all (Hamilton, 2003). This meansthat Rule utilitarianism has a certain percentage over actutilitarianism. In this case, the rule forbidding torture ofchildren, for instance, is seen to bring more happiness if everyoneadhered to it than the rule allowing the torture of children. Actutilitarians` however object that rule utilitarianism amounts torule-fetishism. Here the point of the rules is to bring about thegreatest happiness. As such, “If we only give as much to charity aswe would need to if everyone gave to charity, then many people willnot be helped, because not everyone will give what they should tocharity” (Hamilton, 2003). Ruleutilitarians respond by noting that only rule utilitarianism canprovide real direction for making ethical conclusions and, thatdeciding according act utilitarianism will break the trust thatpeople behave morally. This therefore means that adhering to a ruleeven when in the given case it will cause less happiness thanbreaking the rule is still justified for the reason that people keepbreaking the rules that would cause less happiness in the long run.

Itis however worth noting that what appertains to happiness can varyfrom one person to another. As such the question of how one can tellif a pleasure is more valuable in quality rather than just morepleasurable through quantification remains unsolved. To tell if apleasure is more valuable, people have to prefer it even if havingthat pleasure brings more pain with it. For instance, the pleasure ofbeing in love carries the pain of longing and the possible pain ofbreaking up. But people still prefer being in love to, for instance,eating delicious food. Happiness is not contentment.


Hamilton,C. (2003).&nbspUnderstandingphilosophy: For AS level AQA.Cheltenham: N. Thornes.