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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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John Stuart Mill is one of the most important British philosophers of the nineteenth century. Mill was born in London and educated by his father, home schooled his entire life. Living in the nineteenth century, he was a man of liberal ideas and had strong views about utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, as defined by John Stuart Mill, is “the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility, or 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.” Mill defends claims of utilitarianism in his work, “Utilitarianism.” In this essay, I will be discussing how John Stuart Mill defends his claims against the “doctrine of swine” objection, explain how “The Sheriff’s Wife” objects against Utilitarianism, but also defends it, and I will give my own commentary and feedback throughout the essay.

Utilitarianism, defining as an action, is considered right when the action being performed consists of happiness. A person’s actions are correct when the action creates great happiness for a myriad amount of people. An example of utilitarianism is the utility of wealth. If a competition awarding 500 dollars to the winner was started and the competitors are a middle class, comfortable man, a poor and homeless man, or a rich millionaire man, in the eyes of utilitarianism, it would be correct to allow the poor, homeless man to win this competition due to the fact that he needs the money more than the other two. The comfortable, middle class man does not necessarily need 500 dollars as much as the homeless person. The millionaire man would not even notice 500 dollars if it was given to him. Utilitarianism ultimately states that all factors of society should be balanced. There are many ways utilitarianism is present within the world but it is often defended against.

John Stuart Mill defends utilitarianism against the “doctrine of swine.” The Epicurean theory of life came up with the argument against utilitarianism. The Epicurean theory of life comes from the beliefs of a well known philosopher Epicurus, who mainly believed that we could gain knowledge of the world only from having faith in ones senses. Epicurus taught that the point of a person’s actions is to gain pleasure only for themself, and that this can be achieved by restricting a person’s desires and by not having any fear when it comes to God or death. This is where the “doctrine of swine” comes into play. The “doctrine of swine” explains how the utilitarian doctrine is unsuited for the human race due to the fact that it gives nothing to strive for other than the wish for pleasure. If utilitarianism is correct, then humans have nothing to strive for except for pleasure. This objection ultimately states that people have the same goal in life as a pig does, as stated by John Stuart Mill. Mill counters this by stating that this claim degrades the human race, and adds that there is a difference between animals and humans. Animals have completely different emotions than humans and comparing a pig to a human does not slide with John Stuart Mill. The objection states that the quest for pleasure is the only thing that the human race looks for. Also declared, Mill clarifies that utilitarians express the pleasures as more mental than bodily, “Some kinds of pleasure are more desirable than others.” Mill clarifies by explaining that there are two different types of pleasure, pleasure of the body and mind. Now, pleasure of the body is similar between animals and humans, but not completely the same. Pleasure of the mind, the more superior pleasure according to Mill and most utilitarians, is only obtained by humans. Humans have a sense of everything that occurs around them, and the pleasure of the mind can be happiness, success, and even comfort. Pleasure of the body is self explanatory. John Stuart Mill goes on further to explain the difference between the pleasures and how they explain the difference between animals and humans. John Stuart Mill defends Utilitarianism against the “doctrine of swine” in a way of providing key examples of the difference between animals and humans, and utilizing the feeling of pleasure as the difference between humans and animals. I agree with the difference between the pleasures, and the objection to Mill’s Utilitarianism is completely off, and by Mill stating that the “doctrine of swine” degrades humans is completely correct. The Epicureans who came up with this idea against Utilitarianism have always answered, according to Mill, “That it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light.” This goes to show that there was no intent to degrade, it may have just come off that way. This objection is easily defended by Mill in an obvious way. John Stuart Mill concludes this topic by instilling into the brains of the readers the difference between animals and humans. He states, “It is better to be a human that is dissatisfied than a pig that is satisfied,” which directly shows how animals have no true significance. In my opinion, the only true importance of having a pig would be to help put food on the tables of hungry people. A satisfied pig that just ate a meal, and a human being who just heard bad news, I would much rather want to be a human being than a sloppy pig. John Stuart Mill defends all of his beliefs against the “doctrine of swine.”

Another objection to utilitarianism is within the story, “The Sheriff’s Wife.” In this story, the Sheriff’s civil duties are to take a possibly innocent man and jail him, to protect him from being attacked by the people of the town. The Sheriff’s wife fears for her husband because of him not allowing the civilians to attack the man, Moon, gives civilians a different outlook on the man. Alma, the Sheriff’s wife, was afraid of what her husband was becoming, she was afraid of him being too nice as she explains him as, “Too interested in getting along, and too prone to go along.” This directly shows how the Sheriff made decisions based off of the town, not what he believes is correct. The moral of the story is how the Sheriff completely goes against everything he normally believes in, and how utilitarianism can contradict God and Christian theology. Utilitarianism mixed with the belief in God can cause major problems within human belief. Alma prayed and prayed for her husband and the man under scrutiny, and this shows how the utilitarian belief is wrong in the eyes of Christianity. In many ways, Christianity and utilitarianism are different, but in some cases they are the same and the way “The Sheriff’s Wife” is interpreted, it shows similar attributes. With Alma, she is praying for Moon and her husband the Sheriff and only hoping that the Sheriff comes back to his senses and is normal again. She is praying for Moon due to the fact that she is certain that he is innocent of the crime he is been charged with. A real life comparison to this story would be politics in general. A politician may come out and say something that some people believe, but the majority disapprove. This statement could be completely factual but for some reason, more people lean more towards false, this causes a huge uproar and most people will agree with the majority. This story, “The Sheriff’s Wife” also resembles the story of Pontius Pilate and Jesus. All of the people in the town accused Jesus of committing blasphemy and Pontius Pilate and his wife both had a small part of them believe Jesus. Instead of making a decision with his heart, Pilate decided to go with what his people wanted and have Jesus crucified. This mindset does become a utilitarian mindset when a person instantly begins to make decisions for the greater good of other people, not themself.

Christianity believes in the plan and the way God runs things. God is perfect, and all powerful. God has the ability to control everything. Pertaining to Utilitarianism, pleasure is questioned as to why God does not just give out pleasure to everyone. God does not work this way, if He did, life would be completely different. Imagine a life of perfection, everybody content with their life, and everything being pleasurable. This is a major issue within the human race due to the fact that we will never know what bad and suffering is. Suffering allows for us to know how something can be difficult, and it will teach us in the end what good truly is. An example of how things being perfect can be a problem, imagine never being able to smell bad scents. Yes, smelling bad scents is gross and people do not want to do it, but we would never know the difference. This example can continue when speaking of pleasure also. If God just gave all humans pleasure and there was no goal to achieve in order to have pleasure, life would be different. If humans had no idea of sadness, we would never know true happiness. If we never experience a time with no pleasure, we will never know what truly is pleasurable. God allows us to make decisions based on our own thoughts. Although utilitarianism may be the opposite of Christian theology, it can also directly tie in with it and explain how together, utilitarianism and Christian theology entail that human life must have a great meaning. Everything happens for a reason and it is in the trust of God.

To conclude, John Stuart Mill defends utilitarianism and all of the objections against it. The “doctrine of swine” contradicts utilitarianism by explaining that the feeling of pleasure within a human is present within an animal. Mill defends utilitarianism by stating that comparing the human race to an animal is degrading to the human race. The other objection to utilitarianism is the story, “The Sheriff’s Wife” which explains a story of a Sheriff who makes a decision for the greater good of the people rather than what he actually believes. Mill defends utilitarianism by explaining how Christian theology cannot be tied in with utilitarianism most of the time. There are times where they are extremely similar. John Stuart Mill’s version of utilitarianism explains and defends his beliefs completely and thoroughly.

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