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Utilitarian Ethics

Read Chapter One of John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism” and answer the following questions. Answers should be a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs long.
1. What is the summum bonum, and why is it important for utilitarian moral theory?

2. Mill is critical of “a priori” moralists in Chapter 1. What is an “a priori” moralist, and how do they differ from “consequentialists” like Mill?

3. How does Mill criticize Kant, in particular, on p. 4?

Read through Chapter Two of John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism” and answer the following questions. Answers should be a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs long.
1. “Utility” is the standard according to which actions are judged in utilitarian moral philosophy. What is “utility” according to Mill’s view, and how has it been misunderstood by critics of utilitarianism?

2. Mill mentions a “theory of life” on which utilitarian moral theory is “grounded” (p. 7). What is this “theory of life”? How does it gorund utilitarianism? And what do you think of it?

3. Mill says, famously, that is it better to be “Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” (p. 10). How does this clarify the distinction between higher pleasure and lower pleasure, and why is this an important point for utilitarian theory?

Consider the following scenario and answer the questions immediately following:

You are living in Amsterdam in 1943, and hiding Anne Frank and her family in your attic. One day, a couple of SS officers knock on your door. You open the door, and they ask “are you hiding anyone in your home?” What, on Kant’s view, should you do? (Try to think of options beyond merely saying “yes” or “no”) What do you think of Kant’s position on such a moral dilemma? Is it moral? Is it satisfying? Are there exceptions to moral laws and duties? If so, how can there possibly be moral laws, or a duties (rules that I must obey, things that I must do)?

Analyze the situation according to Mill’s greatest happiness principle. Is his response more satisfying than Kant’s? Why or why not? (Remember that, according to the great happiness principle, we must consider the happiness of everyone who is affected equally).

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