J.S. Mill – Utilitarianism, Ch. 3

John Stuart Mill – Utilitarianism, Chapter 3, “Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility”

  • Questions are asked about any moral standard: What is its “sanction”? What are the motives to obey it? What is the source of its obligation? Where does it derive its binding force from?
    • These questions have to be answered satisfactorily to get anyone to adopt it as a standard: Why follow it? What about is obliging?What are the consequences of following it, or not following it?
  • Sanctions are either External or Internal.
    • External sanctions are easy to understand & don’t need much discussion. They are the hope of favor & fear of displeasure from others or God, along with any sympathy or affection we have for or with them, or love & awe of God. They aren’t specific to Utilitarianism, except that God may wish us to behave towards others in a Utilitarian manner. But they can be an enforcement mechanisms for utilitarian morality in our behavior.
    • An Internal sanction is feeling in our own mind – pain attendant on violation of duty, which in properly cultivated moral nature rises, in more serious cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility.
      • This feeling, when disinterested, & connecting with the pure idea of duty (& not a particular form of it) is the essence of conscience. It’s derived from sympathy, love & fear – from religious feeling, recollections of childhood, our past life, self-esteem, esteem of others & self-abasement.
      • The ultimate sanction of all internal morality comes from the conscientious feelings of mankind. It doesn’t work on those who don’t have those feelings but those people probably won’t follow any moral principle at all, let alone Utilitarianism.
      • This sanction is always in the mind itself, & as far as transcendental moralists are concerned, won’t exist in there unless its root is there.
    • Now the question arises: Do I need to obey my conscience? Some without belief in transcendental theory will say “yes” because of external sanctions. We don’t have to worry if the feeling of duty is innate or acquired for this matter. The fact is they are there or they aren’t.
      • If acquired, usually external sanctions work. If innate, internal sanctions work. But under serious scrutiny, artificially created moral associations fall apart because they seem arbitrary.
      • Natural sentiment has a powerful basis & is a firm foundation of social feelings of mankind: desire to be in unity with mankind – very natural desire in most people & doesn’t need to be inculcated into us. Men always see themselves as a part of society & a fundamental part of themselves.
      • Except in the personal relation of master & slave, society can’t function unless the interests of all are to be consulted. A society of equals can only exist when their interests of all are regarded equally. All states of civilization, except absolute monarchy, has equals & every one is obliged to live on these terms with at least someone else.
      • In this way people live where it’s not possible to live in total disregard for others’ interests. They’re familiar with cooperative with others, proposing collective, not individual, interest as the aim of their actions. As far as they cooperate, their goals are identified with the others’ & there’s a temporary feeling of shared interest. This strengthens social ties, society grows in a healthy way, & gives individuals the interest to consult the welfare of others.
      • The individual identifies his feelings with the good of others & becomes conscious of himself as a being who pays regard to others. The good of others is now natural for him to attend to, as is with himself. This is nourished by the contagion of sympathy & influences of education – with influence of external sanctions.
      • Political improvement removes sources of opposition of interest & levels inequalities of legal privileges of legal privilege between individuals & classes. Improving the human mind causes increase in influences to foster the individual’s feeling of unity with the rest & no benefit for himself in not including others.
    • This unity could be taught as a religion & whole force of education, using institutions to make all children grow up surrounded by its profession & practice [See Auguste Comte]. You don’t have to wait for the social influences to oblige mankind at large. Feeling sympathy with others won’t disrupt your life or society Just think of others & helping their will improve your happiness.
      • If you have a hard time reconciling your opinion & attitude with others, you’ll have to bear in mind that what matters is purely promoting what’s good for others. The feeling may be dead or weak in some but it is contagious. Those with developed feelings can start from their internal sanctions & eventually when it becomes popular enough, social pressure will act as an external sanction on others to fall in line.

Author: knowit68

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