Study Questions for Mill's "Utilitarianism"
in Cahn and Markie, eds., Ethics (2009)

by Dr. Jan Garrett

Revised August 1, 2010

The numbers following the questions correspond to the page numbers and columns in the text.

1. According to Mill, what is the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP)--also called the Principle of Utility? (330.2) What does Mill mean by "happiness"? "unhappiness"? (330.2)

2. On what theory of life, according to Mill, is the GHP grounded? (330.2-331.1)

3. How have (earlier) utilitarian writers explained the superiority of mental to bodily pleasures? (331.1 bottom-331.2 top) What recognition "quite compatible with the principle of utility" does Mill propose? (331.2 top)

4. What method does he suggest for deciding the relative values of competing pleasures? (331.2) What follows regarding pleasures associated with the use of our "higher" faculties? (331.2) How, according to Mill, should we decide whether a pleasure is worth purchasing at the cost of a particular pain? (333.1 end of 1st ¶)

5. Whose happiness forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct? (333.1, 1st full ¶)

6. According to the GHP, what is the ultimate end? (333.1-2) How does Mill define the standard of morality? (333.2 end of 1st ¶)

7. Does Mill believe that happiness would be a "life of rapture"? If not, how does he understand it? (334.1 top)

8. What two "principal" causes of unhappiness does Mill discuss? (334.2 top ¶) Restate his reasons for calling these the "principal causes." Is sympathy a desirable quality according to utilitarians? (334.2)

9. Does he believe that major sources of human misery can be abolished? (335.1-2) (See what he says about poverty, disease, and even "vicissitudes of fortune" such as, perhaps, the housing or stock market.)

10. According to Mill, what alone makes sense of heroism and martyrdom? (335.2)

11. What should "education and opinion" try to establish? (336.1-2)

12. What objection does Mill mention at 336.2 middle? How does the distinction between the morality of an action and the worth of the agent (336.2-337.1) help Mill respond to the objection?

13.What objection does Mill consider at 339.1-2 (para beginning "Again")? How does he respond in defense of utilitarianism? (339.2-340.1)

14. What objection does Mill consider at 340.1 (starting with "We are told…")? How does he respond in defense of utilitarianism? (340.2-341.1 top)