Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill

1) The basic principle of Mill's Utilitarianism is the greatest happiness principle (PU): an action is right insofar as it maximizes general utility, which Mill identifies with happiness.

2) Happiness is:
  1. pleasure and absence of pain
  2. the only desirable end, the final good. Every other desirable thing is so either for the pleasure it provides or as a means to pleasure.

  3. Objection: "Happiness is pleasure" is a doctrine worthy of swines.
    Utilitarian reply:
  4. Bentham: Pleasures are all qualitatively alike;  however, they can be graded on the basis of intensity, length, certainty, temporal closeness, fruitfulness and purity.  It turns out that higher pleasures are ultimately better and therefore should be preferred on the basis of UP.
  5. Mill:

3)  The hedonistic calculus used to determine which course of action to take follows the pattern of cost-benefit analysis, which involving 5 basic steps:

  1. Determine the alternative courses of action
  2. Determine the consequences of each alternative
  3. Assign value to the consequences and implementation costs of each alternative on the basis of how much happiness is destroyed/produced.
  4. Calculate the net benefit (cost) for each alternative
  5. Choose the alternative which optimizes net benefits

  6. NOTE: Steps (1)-(2) are about facts, not values.
5) General problems with Utilitarianism.
A) Distributive problem: B) Problems with rights:

PU tells us to maximize general happiness. But happiness might be maximized by trampling on somenone’s or some group's rights.  For example, enslaving a few might maximize happiness if the needs of the many are thus met. This is very bad because the moral obligations involving rights are especially stringent.
For Utilitarianism, rights are parasitic on general utility.  So, for Mill one has a right only if society benefits from it.  However, this is sufficient to guarantee certain rights, e.g., to security (otherwise vigilantism), to free speech (society is better off with free market of ideas), property (more goods to go around) etc. So, Mill can claim that certain acts are not just wrong because they don't maximize utility, but unjust as well because they impinge on one's right. Still, how many rights PU can actually generate is unclear.

C) Replaceability (impersonality) problem.    
Some general remarks on consequentialism

Consequentialism claims that what we ought to do is solely determined by the value of consequences of what we do.  Although Utilitarianism is by far the most developed and popular version of consequentialism, it is by no means the only possible or reasonable one. In this context it may be helpful to distinguish among various types of consequentialism on the basis of which consequences of an action are deemed morally relevant.  For example, one might hold that only the consequences affecting the agent are morally relevant (perfect egoism), or that only those affecting others are relevant (perfect altruism), or that it makes no difference who is affected by the consequences.  But even if one restricts one's attention to the last type of consequentialism, there are still at least three reasonable options available: 

  1. Hedonistic consequentialism, which identifies utility with pleasure and absence of pain (this is utilitarianism proper).
  2. Subjectivist consequentialism, which identifies utility with the satisfaction of individual preference.

  3. Problem: It collapses the desirable into the desired.  But the two at times don't coincide.  For example:
  4. Welfare consequentialism, which identifies utility with the satisfaction of interests rather than mere preferences.

  5. Problem: it's hard to come up with a list of “true” (vs. merely perceived) interests.