Feel Good Morality – With or Without God
John Stuart Mill – Utilitarianism
This blog will be my attempt at the reconciliation of utilitarianism and Christianity. Mill defines utilitarianism as “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.” When I first read that I thought oh yeah, what kind of crack pot society will you have if everyone is looking out for their own happiness (oops, capitalism =) ). But, as I read on I discovered that there was a lot more to it than that.
The next quote got my attention: “The comparison of the Epicurean*(emphasis on the pleasure of the mind and body in moderation) life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness.” Mill goes on to say that the higher pleasure is the mental instead of the bodily pleasure.
This brings up a little side note, I have a prof that is of the opinion that the mind/body split is absurd. I can see this, look at depression and mental illness, it is a deficiency in a chemical in the body that effects the mind. The split has also been the basis of misogyny, because the man is more of the mind and the woman is more of the body. Also look at the favouring of rational over the intuitive. I read an article earlier this year by Flyvbjerg (Rationality, body, and intuition in human learning), he showed that a beginner level was characterized by rationality and slow thoughtfulness. The expert on the other hand is characterized by intuition. Just a side note for thought, but maybe the mind/body divide is as artificial as country borders.
Back to utilitarianism…The point that stuck in my head was this, “the utilitarian standard… is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier.” This creates morality as the goal of utilitarianism; the idea that the good of other people is above the good of the individual.
Mill was writing to fill the abyss that God left in the secularization of society. My argument is that maybe the argument is a repackaging of the first and second greatest commandments, to love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and to love your neighbour as yourself. In both I find a focus on the other. A critique that I need to hear of my own life.