Discussion summary on Mill

Question 1: In chapter 2, one of Mill questioned his claim on the two levels of pleasures, saying that “It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly and calmly preferred the lower…”.  Can a person that experiences higher pleasures ever “devolve” and begin to prefer those that are lower, or vice versa? 

What my initial thoughts on this was that there’s a possibility that a person could prefer lower over higher, or the other way around. What I considered “lower pleasures” to be in people are those that harm or are a prolonged wrong For example, gambling and doing drugs. They can be considered pleasures as the user experiences happiness from the acts, yet are detrimental to oneself and potentially others around them (ie: family, etc.). People can fall into these types of lower pleasures and find comfort within them, an potentially abandoning the other higher pleasures. Same goes for people who experience lower pleasures transitioning to higher ones. Essentially, what I was getting at is that people can change their preferences towards pleasures, as it depends on the environmental factors they’re experiencing.

I was surprised to hear that my group did not agree with what I had come up with for the answer. In the discussion, we came up with answers such as that people usually wouldn’t change their pleasures, because in their train of thought, they’ve reached their highest, regardless of what others think. Moreover, we also agreed upon that since people are beings capable of higher intelligences, for them to experience “lower pleasures” would just be delusions that the person would be experiencing.  However, it depends on the pleasure, if it is possible to be experiences  by humans or not. These new insights that were brought up in my group helped change my view upon what Mill’s question had been, as I had understood it in a wrong sense.

Question 2: Mill claims that a life in which a pig may be satisfied, will leave a human dissatisfied because the pig’s pleasures are purely sensual, and a human experiences both intellectual and sensual pleasures. Could it be possible for a person to live like a pig, enjoyably, and would it be considered wrong (according to Mill’s Greatest Happiness principle, that acts that are morally right to the degree produce happiness) to live as a pig? 

My answer to this question is no, a person cannot live like a pig. No matter how hard a person tries, it’s impossible. In relation to the first question, people cannot void themselves of higher pleasures, as they are ingrained with intellect to rationalize and act upon choices. A pig doesn’t act upon choices, as it’s pleasures only consist sensually, and therefore it theoretically cannot think or plan out it’s life. If a person decides to live like a pig (basing everything upon sensualization) it wouldn’t count because the person made the initial conscious decision to choose that life and form of pleasure. Moreover, it’s wrong to live as a pig because you’re limiting yourself to the capabilities that a person can achieve/ find pleasure in. Unless it’s pleasurable to live as a pig, I guess that may be an exception.

In the discussion, my group agreed with most of the points I gave out in response to my question. The other points that we all came up with are that the “pleasure” of living like a pig cannot be felt as society partakes in mental pleasures, thus cementing the fact that mental pleasures are mandatory and a low pleasurable life akin to pigs is impossible according to society’s standards. We also had mutual agreement that people function intellectually upon instinct, so a life that is based on sensual pleasures isn’t possible as well. The only thing that surprised me was the last point my group came up with, which is that living a low pleasure life hurts society more so than the person. There would e a lot of resources wasted to supply a person with that type of life and would undoubtedly cause some familial issues as well. For the most part, however, we all agreed upon the same answers that it’s impossible and wrong for a person to live a low pleasurable life such as a pigs.

 

 

Discussion Summary for Mill

The first question brought up in the discussion is in reference to Mill’s support to the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP), in which he states that “Utilitarians look not just to one’s own happiness, but to that of all concerned with action; impartiality between one’s own happiness and that of all others” (Mill, 5). The question is concerned with how Mill might view impartiality in terms of consequentialism and the GHP.

Q1: With this quote from Mill in mind, how do you think an Utilitarian would respond to a situation in which he/she were only given 2 choices: one choice would yield more happiness for you but less for someone else, and the other choice yielding more happiness for the other person and less for you. Assuming that the amounts of happiness were the same for each option, what choice would Mill make?

While it took a bit for the group to respond, they came up with an interesting look to the question. At first glance, it may seem like there is no one correct choice for this situation. Both options produce equal amounts of happiness, yet the difference is in terms of whether you or the other person experiences this pleasure. However, the group came to an interesting conclusion which stated that Mill would most likely choose to generate more happiness for the other person. This is due to his views on impartiality. Mill states that it is important to be impartial between your own happiness and the happiness of others, meaning that one must make a decision in which he/she must be satisfied with the outcomes of other people involved in the situation as if it was their own outcome. Therefore, in order to practice this in the selected situation at hand, the Utilitarian would pick to yield more happiness for the other, as it is the option that practices impartiality towards the happiness and outcomes of others and not one’s self.

The second question stems from Mills words: “[I]t is universally considered just that each person should obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves, and unjust that he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does not deserve” (Mill, 14).

Q2: If Mill thinks that it is universally just that people should obtain what they deserve, good or evil, then what if one is confronted with a situation in which one was to either get what they deserve, even if it produces the most pain. Would Mill chose to the path of “justice” even though it produces more pain than happiness? An example of this is death sentence.

The group was a bit more hesitant to answer this question.  They believed that Mill would most likely choose the path of justice. This is partly due to that fact that, to Mill, the heart at what produces happiness is the security and justice: what people have a right to do, and what protects their security. If an individual has acted against the security of another, and thus has acted unjustly, it would be prudent that the individual obtains what he/she deserves in order to protect the security of others. Within the context of death sentence, it is important to enforce the consequences of those who act unjustly, and to not let an unjust action go under the radar and perceived as acceptable.

JS Mill discussion summary

The questions I chose for discussion were about how to interpret contrasting passages from Mill’s Utilitarianism. The central issue is that Mill indicates different things about his metaethical views in different places, in some instances seeming to support what we now call act utilitarianism, and in others seeming to support what we now call rule utilitarianism.

In chapter II, p. 2, Mill states the Greatest Happiness Principle (the proportionality doctrine), which is that ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness’. As David Brink explains in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry ‘Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy’, this passage seems to express a Bentham-like hedonistic view which would suggest act utilitarianism.

Conversely, when Mill expands his conception of utility in chapter V, he details the moral relevance of rights, duties, sanctions, and justice which seem hard to square up with act utilitarianism and which strongly suggest rule utilitarianism. For example, a right is ‘something which society ought to defend me in the possession of’ (p. 16) — even if that is not what would bring the most pleasure. The conflicting suggestions leave no clear answer as to how to interpret Mill’s point of view in the text.

I also touched briefly on the links between Mill and Epicurus, not only in terms of the foregrounding of happiness or pleasure as the highest good (or telos), but also regarding evidence towards either side of the act/rule distinction: on the act-utilitarian side, the analysis of different pleasures as sensual or intellectual vs kinetic or static; and on the rule-utilitarian side, the connection between Mill’s potential rules (rights, duties, etc.) and Epicurus’s virtues (courage, prudence, etc.)

My questions were:

  1. In light of the textual ambiguity, do you think Mill’s views are better characterized as act utilitarian or rule utilitarian?
  2. Which of the two doctrines do you personally find more convincing?
  3. Is Epicurus any more or less clear on the act/rule distinction? What are the similarities and differences?

The group didn’t come up with a clear answer to any of these questions (which makes sense as they’re pretty contentious even today). We evaluated textual evidence that could indicate either side of the question and arrived at no certain conclusion as to whether he was an act or rule utilitarian. Likewise, people’s personal leanings on the subject were mixed. People generally agreed that Epicurus was more definitely an act utilitarian (more hedonistic or ‘self-centred’) due to his central focus on pleasure.

Mill Discussion Summary

Question 1: Mill claims that “[T]here ought either to be some one fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality, or if there be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among them” (2). For Mill this fundamental law is the greatest happiness principle. Is the greatest happiness principle the most logical choice? If so why? If not, what is?

This question was the most immediate thing that came to my mind when reading Mill, as for me the greatest happiness principle was not the most logical choice. The greatest happiness principle is that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness” (2). However, in my eyes justice, though vague and relative, is a more core part of morality; and is at the root of many decisions humans make that violate the greatest happiness principle. Mill also believed in justice, but he believed that justice was a subset of rules that lead to the greatest happiness in a population. To me, however, it should be the other way around. Justice, on average, leads to higher happiness, but contained in the bubble of justice are actions that do not increase happiness. For example, things such as telling the truth about a person’s partner cheating on them, even if it produces less happiness as a usual outcome, is a just act, and should be done.

To my surprise, my group was in agreement with my belief, as we all believe that the attaining and maintaining of some form of justice was a more integral law than the greatest happiness principle. Specifically, we discussed how actions like being honest, repaying debts, and treating people fairly and equally can all be construed into situation where they produce less happiness as usual consequences, but we feel that this should not matter. Somehow, we all find that there is a value in these acts that cannot be directly to happiness, but is still chiefly important. We did not spend a lot of time on this question, as we all agreed, but upon reflection I should have asked about the relativity of justice. By this I mean how some cultures have different view of what is just. Personally, I feel that these views come from the biases of each population, and that true justice would be and average of all these beliefs.

 

Question 2: Are intellectual pleasures actually more valuables than sensual pleasures? Is Mills’ argument that those who experience intellectual pleasure prefers them. Is this a valid argument, or an assumption?

I asked this question because Mill’s argument for intellectual pleasures seemed very presumptuous, and I didn’t agree with it. His argument, in it’s simplest form, is as follows: “Those who have experienced both “higher” and “lower” pleasures prefer the higher ones” (3).

My group agreed with me, as we all believed that Mill’s assertion that those who have experience the “higher” pleasures prefer them was unfounded, and was simply assumed. This is because he presents no real evidence besides the quoted statement, and we felt that a decent portion of people would prefer sensual pleasures. We discussed how this argument seemed quite pretentious, as it is clear that Mill values intellect, and thus intellectual pleasures. We also brought up how the pig (from Mill’s example), who’s pleasure relative to it’s maximum possible pleasure, is very high would likely enjoy its life substantially more than an intellectual who’s relative pleasure is low. This is because the pig does not know that there is more pleasure to obtain, as it cannot reflect (reflection would be an intellectual pleasure), and thus, in it’s frame of reference it is almost perfectly happy. Whereas the intellect knows that they could achieve much more pleasure and thus suffers from this knowledge.

 

Question 3: Mill’s exceptions to his justice rules, seem to me, to be a contradiction of his initial assertion that there must be a strict moral code to evaluate actions (Question 1), as it provides the loop hole of context. Do you agree? Why or why not?

This question is about the part of the text on page 17 where Mill discusses how there can be exceptions to his rules of justice that provide more happiness, such as kidnapping a doctor or stealing medicine to help a friend who is deathly ill. I felt this question was important because this clause, in my eyes, completely contradicts mills initial statements on page 2 (which is referenced in question 1), where he asserts that there should be “fundamental principle[s] or law[s]” (2). I believe that by introducing exceptions, Mill is transforming this set of fundamental laws, with which any action can be evaluated without bias, into a context driven, bias ridden, form of moral critique. In my eyes this tarnishes the logical purity of his presented argument.

For a third time my group was in agreement, as we believed that if there were laws of justice (as we discussed after question 1), they should be absolute, and in a “determinate order of precedence (2)”. This is because we believe that chief among the tenants of justice should be equality of evaluation, and the only way to impartially evaluate morality is to use a logical code (as it is only biased at it’s inception, and this bias can be minimized by the multitude of people who would create it). We brought up how, in his medical examples, Mill seems to be putting the happiness of the individual ahead of justice, after he claimed that justice leads the greatest happiness of the population. This is in direct contradiction to what we understand to be Mill’s argument about justice, and thus we agreed these exceptions were silly.

 

Discussion Summary on Mill

Question: Is it realistically possible to apply Mill’s ideology of utilitarianism to a society, and also achieve a successful end result?

This question is decently generic since it can be asked when considering a new ideological concept however, I believe it’s especially important to ask in Mill’s case considering the simplistic yet often unclear application. For example, the basis of Mill’s theory is that “the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned.” (Mill, 5). This is a simplistic cutting of many of the other provisos which he states but following it plainly, there are many practical application questions that arise such as, “How many consequences into the future, or people involved,  must we take into account before acting?”,  or what to do in the many situations where the path for the most amount of happiness isn’t clear. So despite how his theory is simplistic and logically nice to follow, is it really usable?

In my discussion group, we considered both the idea of adapting our current society, and also starting fresh with a hypothetical society. Firstly, assuming that in a perfect society everyone followed the principles of utilitarianism, having established laws would be unnecessary since everyone’s moral compasses would be in tune to that of the greatest happiness for the whole and people would be able to make decisions without dramatic negative impacts like financial disasters or political wars. However, this is unrealistic when looking out our own society. One of the problems with Mill’s theory is that it works best for deciding between two difficult decisions, rather than something like the donating money to a charity. Though Mill covers his ideas on generosity of this kind, it was mentioned that with the amount of backtracking on his ideas, it puts more light onto the amount of problems that his system has, which alone suggests that it’s not an ideal theory.

Question: Mill says that the pleasure is the highest good yet he also states that the intelligent person is better off than the satisfied idiot despite potentially not being as pleased. Doesn’t this contradict his own theory?

Mill speaks largely about his opinion on the different levels of happiness in chapter two of his book, however, I couldn’t help but notice how he seems to contradict his own theory of achieving the most happiness by stating that “no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs.” (Mill, 3). Going further, Mill says that the difference between the two types of pleasures are quantity and quality; that the lesser experience more quantity of pleasure with less discontent, and that the other is of higher quality but with more displeasure (Mill, 3). In Mill’s view, to one who has experienced both types, they will always choose the latter.

My discussion group posed that Mill’s view is not as solid as he claims, it’s contradiction being that “If you’re cup is full, life is better.” (quote from group member during the discussion). It was also mentioned that he may have been slightly arrogant when saying this since he is an intellectual and therefore cannot be completely impartial. In his defense, its logical to say that the pursuit of knowledge is something that people should strive for since it leads to a more complete character and that attaining intellectual pleasure is something that one can do (though not a formula for everyone) to seek happiness.

DISCUSSION SUMMARY MILL

Two discussion questions I brought to the group to talk about:

  1. From what perspective should we consider the consequences of one’s actions in order to determine if they are morally good? Is an internalist perspective more important than an externalist perspective when defining justice or injustice in actions? Is the person experiencing the consequences of an action the one that matters when defining morality?  Should there be a set of universal principles that everybody follows in determining whether one is being moral?

For instance, if your best friend has a boyfriend and you discover that her boyfriend is cheating on her, do you tell her even though you are aware she will be devastated? Or do you not tell her and leave her in a blissful ignorance?

Our group discussed that it is necessary to tell your best friend if her boyfriend is cheating on her because, lying is not only intrinsically bad, but also because if your best friend were to find out by herself she would be more in pain knowing that you knew before her. However, we also discussed how, in the hypothetical case that your best friend would never be able to find out the truth unless you revealed it to her that is where the question complicates itself. On one hand if she didn’t find out, she would be more happy and not experience pain, however, from an outsider’s perspective your friend being cheated on is being wronged. Therefore our group discussed that, when comparing internalist versus externalist points of view, in the end the externalist point of view matters most because it determines what is really intrinsically good.

We then linked back our discussion to how Mill is more of an objective moralist, in the sense that he believes in certain moral principles that bind humanity and maintain social order. This relates to the passage of the text when Mill talks about how committing unjust acts for the sake of producing greater good is actually not morally right because then it promotes injustice in all acts and could lead to a chaotic society. However, Mill also says there are exceptions, thus due to the flexibility of Mill’s philosophy depending on the situation, our group discussed that one should attempt to way out the situation and the outcomes.

This relates to the author’s main argument that the GREATEST HAPPINESS PRINCIPLE, involves evaluating actions by how much pleasure they produce in terms of the person experiencing the action but also in terms of an objective moral perspective.

  • “both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.” (p. 5)
  • “Justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life; and the notion which we have found to be of the essence of the idea of justice—that of a right residing in an individual—implies and testifies to this more binding obligation.” (p. 16)
  • P.17: “EVEN RULES OF JUSTICE CAN BE OVERRIDDEN SOMETIMES BY OTHER MORAL DUTIES.”
  1. Why are intellectual pleasures considered more valuable than sensual pleasure and how do they bring more pleasure and happiness in the end?

Our group discussed how sensual pleasures, are pleasures that derive from a NEED. A person in NEED of something will always be troubled by stress because it is LOOKING for something and thus it has to MOVE in order to obtain something. We linked the sensual pleasures back to Epicurus’ concept of kinetic desires such as food or water. These desires are necessary, yet if somebody always looks for sensual pleasures one will always remain unsatisfied. Our group then linked the higher pleasures such as feelings of dignity and virtuousness to Epicurus’ static desires. Our group talked about how higher pleasures come from a peaceful internal state of mind, where one accepts having NO desires. By not having any desires one truly finds peace and a higher sense of pleasure that is long term, unlike sensual pleasures, which satisfy the body momentarily.

This relates to the author’s main argument regarding how to live the best of life, which is by cultivating as much pleasures as possible in terms of quantity and quality; most of all seeking a life of static pleasure. It is through these pleasures, more importantly the higher pleasure that one can achieve happiness and be as farthest away from pain.

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (p. 4)

“Men often, from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer good, though they know it to be the less valuable; and this no less when the choice is between two bodily pleasures than when it is between bodily and mental. They pursue sensual indulgences to the injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is the greater good.” (p. 4)

“Utilitarianism, therefore, could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character, even if each individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction from the benefit.”  (p. 5)

 

Mill Discussion

  •  Two discussion questions I brought to the group to talk about:
    From what perspective should we consider the consequences of one’s actions in order to determine if they are morally good? Is an internalist perspective more important than an externalist perspective when defining justice or injustice in actions? Is the person experiencing the consequences of an action the one that matters when defining morality?  Should there be a set of universal principles that everybody follows in determining whether one is being moral?
    For instance, if your best friend has a boyfriend and you discover that her boyfriend is cheating on her, do you tell her even though you are aware she will be devastated? Or do you not tell her and leave her in a blissful ignorance?
    Our group discussed that it is necessary to tell your best friend if her boyfriend is cheating on her because, lying is not only intrinsically bad, but also because if your best friend were to find out by herself she would be more in pain knowing that you knew before her. However, we also discussed how, in the hypothetical case that your best friend would never be able to find out the truth unless you revealed it to her that is where the question complicates itself. On one hand if she didn’t find out, she would be more happy and not experience pain, however, from an outsider’s perspective your friend being cheated on is being wronged. Therefore our group discussed that, when comparing internalist versus externalist points of view, in the end the externalist point of view matters most because it determines what is really intrinsically good.
    We then linked back our discussion to how Mill is more of an objective moralist, in the sense that he believes in certain moral principles that bind humanity and maintain social order. This relates to the passage of the text when Mill talks about how committing unjust acts for the sake of producing greater good is actually not morally right because then it promotes injustice in all acts and could lead to a chaotic society. However, Mill also says there are exceptions, thus due to the flexibility of Mill’s philosophy depending on the situation, our group discussed that one should attempt to way out the situation and the outcomes.
    This relates to the author’s main argument that the GREATEST HAPPINESS PRINCIPLE, involves evaluating actions by how much pleasure they produce in terms of the person experiencing the action but also in terms of an objective moral perspective.
    “both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.” (p. 5)
    “Justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life; and the notion which we have found to be of the essence of the idea of justice—that of a right residing in an individual—implies and testifies to this more binding obligation.” (p. 16)
    P.17: “EVEN RULES OF JUSTICE CAN BE OVERRIDDEN SOMETIMES BY OTHER MORAL DUTIES.”
    2. Why are intellectual pleasures considered more valuable than sensual pleasure and how do they bring more pleasure and happiness in the end?
    Our group discussed how sensual pleasures, are pleasures that derive from a NEED. A person in NEED of something will always be troubled by stress because it is LOOKING for something and thus it has to MOVE in order to obtain something. We linked the sensual pleasures back to Epicurus’ concept of kinetic desires such as food or water. These desires are necessary, yet if somebody always looks for sensual pleasures one will always remain unsatisfied. Our group then linked the higher pleasures such as feelings of dignity and virtuousness to Epicurus’ static desires. Our group talked about how higher pleasures come from a peaceful internal state of mind, where one accepts having NO desires. By not having any desires one truly finds peace and a higher sense of pleasure that is long term, unlike sensual pleasures, which satisfy the body momentarily.
    This relates to the author’s main argument regarding how to live the best of life, which is by cultivating as much pleasures as possible in terms of quantity and quality; most of all seeking a life of static pleasure. It is through these pleasures, more importantly the higher pleasure that one can achieve happiness and be as farthest away from pain.
    “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (p. 4)
    “Men often, from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer good, though they know it to be the less valuable; and this no less when the choice is between two bodily pleasures than when it is between bodily and mental. They pursue sensual indulgences to the injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is the greater good.” (p. 4)
    “Utilitarianism, therefore, could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character, even if each individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction from the benefit.”  (p. 5)

Mills and Immigration Policy

  1. In light of how Mill’s defines what is just and moral, that is the distinction between what is owed another person and what is owed to no one in particular, which parts of the case of the immigration into Canada?

 

This question was asked to shed light about how Mill’s would have viewed recent debate on immigration. He divides morality and justice, and then prioritizes justice.

 

“Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right. No one has a moral right to our generousity or beneficence, because we claim from us as his moral right.” (Mils, p. 15)

 

“In the more precise language of philosophic jurists, duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons; duties of imperfect obligation are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any right. I think it will be found that this distinction exactly coincides with that which exists between justice and the other obligations of morality.” (pg. 15)

 

“Justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life… It appears from what has been said, that justice is a name for certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than any others (pg. 16)

 

There are many ways to view immigration but I think some might argue that an effective immigration policy is one that protects the citizens from economic and security fall-out of letting in new people. That would fall under justice according to Mill.

 

“Thus, a person is said to have a right to what he can earn in fair professional competition, because society ought not to allow any other person to hinder him from endeavoring to earn in that manner as much as he can.” (pg 16) – but that person is not owed any specific wage

 

“To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of… The interest involved is that of security, to every one’s feelings the most vital of all interests.” (pg. 16)

 

On the other hand morality obliges a country to let in refugees in order to save them from a situation which endangers their lives.

 

“[…] though particular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine…” (pg. 16)

 

In which case Mills might have thought immigration is justifed.

There are many economic study which support the idea that immigration causes net benefit to the economy and that evidence clearly show immigrants are no more violent or criminal than citizens in Canada, so one might argue that the first argument of economic and physical safety of citizens is moot.

 

Discussion Answers:

  • Someone surmised that immigration is more justice based, not moral, in reality. Immigrants are owed something. It is also moral because we need to be generous.
  • A good point came up: almost everyone is an immigrant in Canada and we have no right bar people from coming in. That is, we have nothing “owed us”.
  • It is irrational to think that we are going to be harmed by immigrant so we do not have to concern ourselves with Mill’s thoughts of security.
  • We have as much obligation to provide the best wage for people within and without our borders

 

 

  1. In light of these discussions, what is the best immigration policy, in your opinion and that of Mill?

 

This was asked in hopes that Mill’s definition of justice and morality, and the maximization of utility would give a better perspective on immigration policy. Considering what he says about security and wages, but also about how our moral duty to increase utility to any human, not just the citizens of one’s own country, might weigh in on this discussion.

 

Some things to think about were merit-based immigration vs lottery-based immigration vs refugee status, the care of immigrants once they arrive, a country’s relationship/obligation to the world, path to immigration for undocumented residents.

 

Once again, we might face the question of whether there are circumstances where justice, or laws, must be broken in order to fulfill “social duties, when it comes to undocumented residents:

 

“[…] though particular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine…” (pg. 16)

 

Discussion Answers:

 

  • Someone suggested that we forgo borders altogether. She envisioned that instead of border bound states as we have now we would live in socialist communes scattered throughout the world. We would have absolute freedom to just roam on the earth and set up our own forms of government.
  • Someone else then asked: but what about when people in different regions have different sense of justice and morality?

 

 

Summary of Mill Group Discussion

Questions:

  1. In an example that Mill gives, “he who betrays the friend that trusts him, is guilty of a crime, even if his object be to serve another friend to whom he is under greater obligations.” (Mill, Page 6) From the perspective of the friend whose trust has been broken, yes this is morally bad. But from the perspective of the other friend, this action is morally good. By what means does one pick which perspective to judge from? In this instance, the individuals helped and harmed are of equal numbers.
  2. Mill says that the greatest happiness principle “is an existence as far as possible from pain.” (Mill, Page 5) This suggests that one with no pain in their life will have the greatest amount of happiness. But without pain, would one even know something to be happy? Is pain not needed as a necessary contrast?
  3. Mill discusses that some people, over the course of their lives, may have broken down from preferring higher pleasures and attempted an “ineffectual” combination of both higher and lower pleasures. (Mill, Page 4) Why might this combination be ineffectual, and can it be altered to be more effective.

In the view of Mill, actions which are beneficial to the most amount of people are considered good. Mill also believes that higher pleasures, that is pleasures of the intellect, are more satisfying than lower, sensual pleasures. Mill says that only a fool would choose sensual pleasures over intellectual pleasures.

These questions relate directly to the views of Mill. In question one, it would appear that the action results in equal numbers of people being helped and harmed. This leads to the question of whether or not this becomes a good or bad action, as the action was beneficial to the majority, in a way. Question two directly questions how Mill defines happiness, and how one proceeds to achieve feelings of happiness. Finally, question three discusses Mill’s views on higher and lower pleasures.

All three questions were discussed, though there was particular emphasis placed on question two and three.

Question one was discussed less so than the other two, though we were unable to come up with a means by which to decide which perspective to view the situation from. Because there wasn’t a larger group of people benefiting over a smaller group of people, the choice was not obvious. While one person was wronged, another person would also be wronged had the scenario been flipped. So in either case, there is one person who is done right by, and one person who has been done wrong by. It is a tricky scenario, and for Mill to lay out a blanket rule, as he has, does not seem to take into account the complexities of every individual situation.

As a group, a consensus was reached for question two, which agreed that some form of pain is required at some point, otherwise one cannot know true happiness. This is because without pain, one would only know happiness. If one only knows happiness, then it really does not stand out as anything special. Therefore, we did not quite agree with what Mill was saying, though we do agree that a life filled with more happiness than pain is ideal.

For question three, we again did not quite agree with Mill. Some people in the group feel that there is nothing wrong with seeking lower pleasures, and therefore disagreed that any combination of lower and higher pleasures would be ineffectual. It seemed to reason that a combination of the two would produce the best results, as that fully encompasses all pleasures one could seek.

Our group had an excellent discussion, and we heard several different points of view for all three questions.