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Utilitarianism Essay

1113 words - 5 pages

In chapter five of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill attempts to correlate the human sentiments of justice with the principles of his Utilitarian doctrine. His task is to identify whether justice exists by itself or is derived by other sentiments. In so doing, he must also identify the range of our conceptions of justice to determine whether his theory can suitably address the demands of moral thinking. Mill does not describe every variety of the human notion of justice -- he could not have. The point of this exercise has been to bring into view a more complete picture of justice, and to demonstrate that a good deal of it may be served on the basis of utility. There are circumstances where ...view middle of the document...

In a less formal view of justice, Mill regards a person's just deserves as a measurement of rightful retribution, attributing the source to our animal nature.

To me it seems improper to succumb to these instincts and Mill agrees that this mechanism of justice can be quite easily abused, à la lex talionis. Still narrower perhaps are the expectations we have of others in the keeping of faith. Significant injustices are possible in our obligations and it has been demonstrated in the course of human history that to maintain a promise produces far more utility than to not. Similarly, to demonstrate impartiality despite possessing the power to do otherwise is not only virtuous by many standards, but may also implicate the utility of very many other people and so appears to be in line with the Utilitarian ideal.

After identifying the circumstances of our sentiments of justice, Mill determines what penal sanctions would be appropriate for injustices in a utilitarian practice. As mentioned before, an action which is judged as being morally wrong should be punishable to an extent derived from careful consideration of an individual’s just deserves. These deserves are measured in terms of social utility, to levy the fairest share of unhappiness to the offender. This appears to imply that in a Utilitarian court, the accused may receive any verdict, including reward, for an offense. Just as Socrates suggested a stipend in return for his efforts to the Athenians, just deserves benefit as well as debilitate. As in the Apology, however, we find that those who demand justice will rarely agree with the receiver on the terms of that justice.

Not all concerns with justice are addressed in courts, however and there are still types of human action which, although not retributable, still promote or inhibit utility in most notable ways. The association of moral duty to this type of justice and the resultant distinguishment between types of duties existed before Mill, but his doctrine is comfortable to integrate the distinction between those actions which are morally required (blameworthy) or simply desirable (praiseworthy). This distinction is known as the perfect and imperfect duties, the former of which corresponds to and serves a person's moral right and the latter of which is concerned with charitable beneficence, or acting in effect of...

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