Phil. 51 Intro. to Ethics
R. N. Johnson


1. Explain the accounts of "right" and "good"  contained in Millís statement of the principle of utility. What is the importance of each account? Why do we need accounts of both? How are the two notions related in Millís view?

2. What is the difference between hedonism and egoism? Are they theories that tell us which actions are right or are they theories that tell us which things are good? Which of the two is a part of Millís utilitarian theory, and why?

 3. What is a "standard of morality"? What makes happiness the "standard of morality" for Mill?

 4. What is the "ignorant blunder" Mill refers to in the opening paragraph of Chapter II?

 5. Explain the objection that utilitarianism is a "doctrine worthy of swine". What is Mill's first response to this objection?

 6. Explain the difference between the "quality" and "quantity" of a pleasure, as Mill understands it. What role does this distinction play in his theory? Explain any potential objections one might have to the distinction that Mill makes, and how Mill might respond.

 7. "Happiness cannot be the purpose of human life, for it is unattainable, and even if attainable, it is something we can live our lives quite well without." Explain this objection and Mill's response to it?

 8. Explain Mill's attitude toward self-sacrifice. Is utilitarianism a morality of self-sacrifice? Why or why not?

 9. One might think that utilitarianism, in holding that people should only do that action that produces the most happiness, provides too high a standard for human actions. Why might one think this? How does Mill respond to this objection? Is it a good response? Why or why not?

10. How do we judge a person's character on Mill's theory? What is the relationship between right or wrong actions and good or bad characters on his view?

11. Why might someone object to utilitarianism on the grounds that it is a godless doctrine? How does Mill respond to this?

12. Explain the objection that utilitarianism is immoral because it advocates "expediency" as the standard by which to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action. What is meant here by "expediency" and why might someone think it immoral to judge actions solely according to that criterion? What is Mill's response to this objection?

13. Suppose someone objected to Mill that there isn't enough time to calculate the consequences of our prospective actions. What does Mill respond? How might his response change his theory (if at all)?

14. Explain rule utilitarianism. How does it differ from act utilitarianism? What quotes in the text can you find that might lead one to think that Mill is a rule utilitarian?

15. Explain indirect utilitarianism and how it differs from direct utilitarianism. What quotes can you find in the text that might lead a reader to think that Mill is an indirect utilitarian?


 1. Why can't there be a "proof" of the principle of utility, at least in the ordinary sense of that term?

 2. What does "desirable as an end" mean? By what argument does Mill establish that happiness is desirable as an end? Some think that Mill commits the fallacy of equivocation in this argument. What is the fallacy and why might someone think that he commits it? What alternative way of understanding this argument might avoid the fallacy?

 3. By what argument does Mill "establish" that the general happiness is desirable as an end? What's wrong with this argument?

4. By what argument does Mill "establish" that happiness is the only thing desirable as an end? Why must he show this?

 5. How does something come to be a "part" of happiness?

 6. Why should we desire virtue for its own sake and not for the sake of the happiness it may produce, on Mill's view?

 7. Someone might object to Mill that it may be true that we only desire happiness for its own sake, but nevertheless what we will is independent of what we desire. In fact, what we will is determined by something other than desire for own happiness, and, therefore, there must be some standard of morality other than happiness. What is Mill's response to this?

 8. Why is it a "physical and metaphysical impossibility" to desire something one conceives of as unpleasant?