Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism

By Roger Crisp | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The proof and sanctions of utilitarianism

Moral theory and methodology

A moral theory is a systematic account of what makes actions right or wrong. Mill states his ‘creed’, or his moral theory, succinctly in 2.2: ‘[A]ctions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.’

What does this mean? That will require some discussion (see chapter 5), but for now I shall just state that Mill’s view of what he calls in the very first paragraph of Utilitarianism ‘the criterion of right and wrong’ is that the right action is that which produces the greatest overall balance of pleasure over pain. This is utilitarianism, or, more precisely, one form of it.

What other moral theories are there? Let me mention two for the sake of illustration and comparison. The first is that of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) (see Kant 1785). Mill states Kant’s moral theory as follows: ‘“So act, that

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