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Moral Dilemma: John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Utilitarianism

Free «Moral Dilemma: John Stuart Mill's Theory of Utilitarianism» Essay Sample

John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism has produced a groundbreaking effect on the field of philosophy. Mill went down in history of philosophy as a founder of theory based on the principle of moral good. This theory determines morally correct action and has essential practical application. It puts am emphasis on the things which bring moral good, and does not pay attention to the fact whether moral good corresponds to the moral duty. Utilitarianism and its focus on moral good seems to be the best way of ethical decision making, and practical application of its principles shows its efficiency.

Mill’s theory of utilitarianism consists of two components: the theory of good and the theory of the right. He stated that human actions are right only when they comply with moral rules. In addition, valid moral rules are those, which produce the greatest good. In his theory of utilitarianism, Mill emphasizes on the principle of utility, according to which happiness is the most desirable moral outcome, and people should consider it in their actions. However, it should be general happiness, not the personal one. It should promote the happiness of other people. Such thoughts really make sense as when something brings happiness to the vast majority instead of one individual, it is morally right. Mill also stated that taking significant moral decisions, an individual should consider ways of good promotion first and foremost.


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This moral theory can find its proper application in everyday life while finding the solution to modern moral dilemma. For instance, it may help to decide whether it would be morally right to tell the police about Stuart, who robbed $2000 from a local grocery store. In order to provide the answer to this question, one has to take into account the fact that Stuart comes from a family which experiences severe financial problems. He robbed the grocery store not for himself but for his family as he wanted to support them. Moreover, telling police the truth will deprive Stuart of his right to get the Villanova scholarship. Also, he will not be able to get a decent job. Furthermore, the grocery store is insured and will get the money anyway.

According to the Mill’s theory of utilitarianism and principle of utility in particular, it would be morally right to provide alibi to Stuart. There exist several reasons for it.

  1. a) Stuart’s family and consequence of truth telling. Currently, his family experiences huge financial problems. However, their situation may improve because Stuart has provided them with a necessary financial assistance to stop experiencing financial problems. In case of truth telling, all the family members will be miserable because the police officers will take the money from them.
  2. b) Effect of truth telling on Stuart’s life. Stuart is sincerely happy. Despite the fact that he had to rob the grocery store, he managed to get the money to help his family. In case of telling the truth, Stuart will be imprisoned and deprived of the Villanova scholarship. Such consequence will definitely ruin his life.
  3. c) Truth telling and grocery store. The authorities of grocery store are negatively affected due to loss of a considerable sum of money. However, in case of police officers’ inability to find the criminal, the insurance company will be obliged to cover the loss. The sum of insurance often exceeds the robbed sum. Therefore, the store’s management will be satisfied because they will get their money back.

Analysis of the situation has showed that according to the principle of the utility, providing Stuart with alibi will result in general happiness. Necip Alican (1994) states that “Mill takes happiness as the highest good, and sets up the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the standard of morality and defines happiness as ‘pleasure and absence of pain’” (p. 10).

Thus, keeping Stuart’s secret will promote happiness of greater number of people than revealing the truth. The latter will cause pain and sufferings and distort the lives of affected people.

The only objection to the problem resolution is the fact that moral approval of the crime may lead to its spread and even popularization. In other words, it means that robbing a grocery store for the benefit of others is advantageous when it happens once. However, regular crimes of such kind may lead to disaster. If every person experiencing financial difficulties starts robbing stores and banks, it will result in chaos and anarchy. Such way-out of the problem will stop causing general happiness and will definitely have drastic side effects. Looking at the issue of robbery from this angle contradicts the moral reasoning discussed above.

Kant’s theory of deontology faces the same objection. Kant states that people should give preference to actions that are right over those that are good. Barbara McKinnon and Andrew Fiala (2015) discuss the differences between the theory of utilitarianism and Kant’s theory of deontology and state:

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While utilitarian ethics focuses on producing the greatest happiness for the greatest number, deontological ethics focuses on what makes us worthy happiness. For Kant, as for the Stoics and others who emphasize duty, we are worthy of happiness only when we do our duty. (p. 68)

Kant’s theory of deontology contradicts the proposed solution to dilemma under analysis. According to him, it will be morally right to reveal Stuart’s crime to police and allow him to go to jail. Principle of universalizability contravenes the principle of utility, because the first one indicates that the rules should be equal for all people. The proposed solution is based on the assumption that single emphasizing of moral good over the moral duty is beneficial. It opposes Kant’s principle of universalizability, which requires following the rules without any exceptions.

In conclusion, it should be assumed that John Stuart Mill’s theory of utilitarianism is quite efficient. It presupposes that the moral decision is positive if it results in general happiness. Even despite the fact that it may contradict the legal regulations adopted and accepted by society, it is morally and ethically right. The basis of the theory is formed by the principle of utility. It emphasizes the fact that an action becomes morally good only when it results in mass satisfaction and pain reduction. The practical application of this theory in the case of crime has proved to be quite effective considering that it only happens once. If the solution to the same problem is constantly repeated, it will stop being beneficial for the vast majority and will start causing detrimental consequences. Sticking to the Mill’s theory of utilitarianism while searching for the solution to dilemma under analysis contradicts Kant’s theory of deontology and its principle of universalizability. This principle requires fulfilling the duties without exceptions. Analysis of the dilemma and consideration of all pros and cons has lead to the conclusion that the proper solution would be providing alibi to a friend and assisting him in avoiding the punishment.

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