Originally Mill took pleasure as the same measurement of happiness – just as his mentor, Bentham used. However, Bentham’s definition did not take into account any moral dimension and pleasure is also a subjective thing. Mill went on to create his definition of happiness as having one’s mind fixed on something other than one’s own happiness and gave examples such as art , studies, or even other people. While his definition is more complete, there is still plenty of room for subjectivity. For instance, there are many who can endure terrible suffering and still give a strong face of happiness.
Because of this subjectivity, problems occur when using this as a measurement for utility. Utility itself is a indefinite standard, as its precepts are based on ethics and moral code, which can vary from culture to culture, as well as person to person. The same problem occurs with happiness- there is no standard, each person’s happiness is different. In basic terms, the “Greatest Happiness Principle” states that something that is morally correct produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. While this may sound simplistic and overly optimistic, happiness in this sense does not always mean a positive outcome.
No one could call the bombing of Japan in WWII a “happy” thing, however the decision was made using the basic utilitarian principle- that this option cost less lives than an invasion and ground war would. Despite the problems of subjectivity, utility is still one of the best ways to compare different types of happiness. It can show the level of happiness if one believes in the principle of equality of happiness, or if one prefers the “least happy person should be happy as possible” principle” ; it provides the necessary yardstick for comparing these views.
An example of where this can be used effectively would be in the matter of public policy, where it is quite necessary to see whether policy measure are actually helping the people they are targeting, or causing more stress and displeasure. Looking at it from the other side, there are some problematic areas with having a single standard of measurement for happiness,. There is the argument that having a single standard demeans certain kinds of pleasures. For example, the happiness one gets from eating an ice cream sundae is in no way comparable to the joy of giving birth.
Even if one uses a weighted system of measurement, these two pleasures are totally incomparable; but having a single standard of comparison implies that they are, in the long run, the same basic thing. Again, the subjectivity of happiness also comes to bear when considering a single standard. Going back to the point that many people can endure extreme suffering or disappointment, just because they can remain happy does not mean they have a good quality of life or that they want to remain this way.
In this way, using a single standard can hide inequality and grave suffering, which makes a good argument against using happiness at all for a measurement. While there are flaws in utilitarianism, it has played an important part in history. The works of John Stuart Mill influenced greatly, the founding fathers of the United States, including the writing of the constitution. It is a branch of philosophy that is still alive today and often brings forth some very heated debates. As for the debates, they are what keeps an idea alive and fresh- otherwise it shrivels and becomes useless.
To quote Mill “No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. ” References Miler, Fred “John Stuart Mill “, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed). retrieved on June 4, 2009 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/mill/#Lif Heydt, Colin “John Stuart Mill, an Overview) retrieved on June 4, 2009 from http://www. iep. utm. edu/m/milljs. htm