Social

Governmental Interference

What motivates people to do the right thing? Mill claimed universal agreement on the role of moral sanctions in eliciting proper conduct from human agents. (Utilitarianism 3) But unlike Bentham, Mill did not restrict himself to the socially-imposed external sanctions of punishment and blame, which make the consequences of improper action more obviously painful. On Mill’s view, human beings are also motivated by such internal sanctions as self-esteem, guilt, and conscience. Because we all have social feelings on behalf of others, the unselfish wish for the good of all is often enough to move us to act morally. Even if others do not blame or punish me for doing wrong, I am likely to blame myself, and that bad feeling is another of the consequent pains that I reasonably consider when deciding what to do. In Chapter Four, Mill offers as proof of the principle of utility an argument originally presented by his father, James Mill. The best evidence of the desirability of happiness is that people really do desire it. and since each individual human being desires her own happiness, it must follow that all of us desire the happiness of everyone. Thus, the Mills argued, the greatest pleasure of all is morally desirable. (Utilitarianism 4) The argument doesn’t hold up well at all in logical terms since each of its inferences is obviously fallacious, but Mill may have been correct in supposing on psychological grounds that seeking pleasure and avoiding pain are the touchstones by which most of us typically live. Finally, Mill argued that social applications of the principle of utility are fully consistent with the traditional concern for the promotion of justice. Justice involves respect for the property, rights, and deserts of individual citizens, along with fundamental presumptions in favor of good faith and impartiality. All of these worthwhile components of justice are adequately preserved by conscientious application of the principle of utility, Mill supposed, since particular cases of each clearly results in the greatest happiness of all affected parties.

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