Posted: September 18th, 2022


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Summary of Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics


a. Some aspects:

i. It is empirical, basing itself on observing whatever humans happen to enjoy and dislike in the present moment.

ii. It presupposes that humans are driven by nothing more than sensory pleasure and pain.

iii. It is primarily focused on the ends of pleasure without regard to the means.

iv. Justice is therefore about maximizing utility for pleasure amongst the greatest amount of people, while minimizing pain.

b. Some pros:

i. It at least considers that we are embodied beings, and our felt pleasures and pains are an important part of morally determining a meaningful and happy life.

ii. It
appears simple and nonjudgmental in accepting all preferences as equal.

c. Some cons:

i. it makes justice and rights a matter of calculation rather than principle, so that majority rule can easily step over individuals and minorities.

ii. Its supposed nonjudgmental character actually covers up a more severe prejudice that reduces all pleasures to a single uniform measure of value, which Bentham refers to as money.

iii. This tends to sweep morality under the rug since it no longer reasons about meaningful qualitative distinctions amongst our preferences and how we should value some over others according to a
norm beyond fleeting commercial interests.


a. Some aspects:

i. It is rational, based in the coherent, consistent, universal nature of reason, rather than based on empirical fluctuations between different societies and times.

ii. It presupposes that humans are inherently rational according to a free will able to determine its own ends above the tug of war between sensory pleasures and pains. The will is only free when it acts according to the autonomy of its own reason rather than according to externally determined instincts, sensations or commercial interests.

iii. Its primary focus is on the rightness of the motive
behind the act, and not on the results or consequences of the act—as a formal concern about whether the will acted freely in obeying reason alone, it is not only unconcerned with consequences but also unconcerned with whether the person is becoming virtuous through that act.

iv. Justice is about respecting the free will, and thus about making sure majority might doesn’t encroach on the individual right to make one’s own rational choice.

b. Some pros:

i. It holds to a normative conception of the human in its rational capacities beyond fleeting sensations of pleasure and pain

ii. On this basis, and thus against utilitarians, it grounds justice and rights on a principle of human dignity rather than calculation – individual rights are worthy of respect regardless of what the majority finds desirable.

iii. Respect of rights also does not require challenging all the preferences and desires that people do indeed have, since the point of justice is to respect the freedom of choice itself (though in its rational form).

c. Some cons:

i. The normative conception of the human tends to focus too much on the highly abstract form of pure practical reason at the expense of our inherently embodied social nature, thus failing to properly consider the moral weight of our loves, desires, and pursuit of happiness.

ii. Securing rights in terms of freedom of will and choice alone does not really settle most issues, since almost all issues, small or big, require reasoning about ends, purposes, and meanings: about what is socially, economically, and politically

for a properly human life to concretely and holistically become (rather than abstractly recognized only in theory).

iii. Similarly, its abstract focus exclusively on respecting others as ends, fails to account for the required social and civic virtues, along with their required practices and institutions, that could promote and cultivate such respect in the first place.

iv. In other words, it doesn’t adequately address what we should choose in terms of how to become truly dignified beings in both theory
and practice.

Virtue Ethics:

a. Some aspects:

i. It is rational and empirical, basing its reasoning both on empirically observed qualities and capacities, while reasoning about which ones are potentially distinctive and definitive for a more excellent form of human existence regardless of whether they have yet to be empirically realized.

ii. It presupposes that humans are inherently social and rational. Like Kant, Aristotle held that reason is not a mere instrument but the form of human freedom itself. But unlike Kant, humans are most free when they are able to fully develop their distinctive
social and rational capacities, socially in the most holistic sense.

iii. Its focus is on the end goal or common good of happiness, not as pleasure but holistically as well-rounded human flourishing, achievable through the virtues as the right means/practices of building the required character traits/habits.

iv. Justice is about distributing and allocating goods so as to reward and promote social virtues that lead to human excellence.

b. Some pros:

i. More practical and comprehensive in empirically and rationally considering what it means to be an embodied social being.

ii. Has a normative sense of human nature and the common good, beyond commercial interests, to help discern those preferences that are truer to a fully human form of social existence.

iii. Considers reason not in the purely abstract form of a free will alone, but rather in how we substantively reason about common goods and practice social virtues that aim toward, not just the end of
respecting individual freedom, but the end of actually
making everyone free through social, economic and political organization for the sake of community.

iv. In other words, even if we can’t accept the content of Aristotle’s world, his virtue ethics shows us comprehensively what we should be rationally discussing and arguing about in ethics—mainly, that the freedom of choice, the act of choosing itself, is meaningless unless there is something of a good life of human excellence that we can commonly pursue.

c. Some cons:

i. It is demanding and hard to develop within our fragmented and compartmentalized capitalist society, which does not practice, encourage, or promote certain fundamental social virtues or allow much free time to do so.

ii. It can easily become fixated on narrow conceptions of human nature or the common good and forget that these norms, and how they are to be pursued, are also continually expanding (if the human really is a progressive being) and so must be continually reasoned about and discussed with others.

iii. Similarly, while it is not interested in the elitism of moneyed wealth and power, it can devolve into an exclusionary elitism of moral excellence, forgetting that it is a collective project of building community for the sake of universal flourishing, raising everyone up into human excellence.

Comparison and Contrast chart:

Ethical Paradigm


Dimensions to human being

Main Purpose for ethical action

Primary Means for fulfilling ethical action

Ultimate Social Goal



We are only consuming animals without universal standpoint

One-dimensional: pleasure machines with no higher qualities

Maximize and regulate pleasure seeking within given brute nature

Ends justify
whatever means

Functional Stability for status quo of commercial society



We are consuming animals, but with a universally shared rational structure

Dualistically two-dimensional:

Pleasure machines + rational will

restrain and
transcend given brute nature when its interests conflict

Focuses on neither ends nor means, but on
purifying intentions for obeying duty for duty’s sake

Cosmopolitan respect of individual rights



We are inherently
social animals with universally shared rational and social potentials for politics

Organically multidimensional: sensible pleasures, social qualities, rational capacities

transform our brute nature according to its more excellent potentials for holistic development

Virtue as fitting appropriate means to ends: the practice of building up highest powers through habits

A political community of friendship and mutual flourishing

5/4/22, 12:40 AM

Reading Assignment Questions: Week 5 1/2

Reading Assignment Questions: Week 5

Due Apr 30 by 11:59pm Points 2 Submitting a text entry box or a file upload

After reading the primary and secondary texts and my lecture notes provide substantive answers to all of
the following questions.

1. How does Kant claim the worth of each individual is more than their dollar amount in the marketplace
(he mentions market value near the end of the reading)?

2. Why would Kant think humans are unfree within utilitarianism?

3. What is the difference between heteronomy and autonomy? Does being autonomous mean that you
can choose to pursue any whim you want?

4. What is the difference between a hypothetical imperative and a categorical imperative? What are the
several different versions that Kant gives of the categorical imperative?

5. Speaking of the different versions of his categorical imperatives, what does Kant mean by a “kingdom
of ends”? What do you think such a kingdom would concretely look like within Kant’s framework? For
example, if one tried to live out the Kantian ideal of a kingdom of ends, how would one’s treatment of
a beggar differ from Bentham’s treatment? Can this difference make a difference without appealing to
virtuous practices and corresponding social transformations? (it might be helpful to think about the
differences between Kant’s ideal of a kingdom of ends and virtue ethics’ ideal political community of

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5/4/22, 12:40 AM Reading Assignment Questions: Week 5 2/2

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 1/7

Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 2/7

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5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 3/7

Kant’s ethical theory provides us with something very different than the previous two. If
Bentham’s utilitarianism focuses solely on results in the form of getting pleasures by
any means, then what distinguishes Kant’s morality is that it focuses exclusively on
principled intentions behind the actions regardless of the results. In other words,
whereas utilitarianism is often described as a type of “consequentialism” because it
focuses solely on the pleasurable consequences of our actions, Kant’s moral theory is
described as “deontology” because it focuses on principles alone to the exclusion of
consequences: hence, deontology means the study of duty (deon) for duty’s sake,
doing your moral duty as a matter of principle rather than whether it will be beneficial
for some other purpose or bring about certain happy consequences. This emphasis on
principle is a significant point of departure from utilitarianism and virtue ethics in
several ways:

Kant concedes to utilitarianism that humans are basically selfish pleasure seekers
… BUT, Kant wants to emphasize that nevertheless we can temporarily transcend
this state because we have an inherent rational capacity to defer pleasure and
choose rational ends for their own sake when push comes to shove.

In other words: The normative form of human nature that guides his morality is
that humans are primarily egotistical and selfish animals; yet humans are also
distinctively more than this insofar as each individual has the same faculty of
reason for self-governance beyond being consumer slaves to pleasure.

each person is therefore morally equal and important in principle, because
each individual is able to act autonomously on the basis of universal reason
morality is then primarily about the principle of respecting each person’s
autonomy: hence, each person has inherent dignity not reducible to market
utility–each person is more than the object of someone else’s pleasure.

For Kant morality then is to be focused on intentions: whether we are intending
the right rational principles for their own sake, rather than pursuing external
results with ulterior motives.
There is more to Kant’s reasoning which is further elaborated in my
( lecture
notes on Kant (
download_frd=1) , with an outline of its overall logic at the end.

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 4/7

Some Key Questions to Think about

In the readings we will want to pay close attention to Kant’s reasoning and ask:

1. how does he build his theoretical case for respecting each person as an end in

2. How does Kant define the freedom of the will, as more than arbitrarily doing
whatever you happen to want, according to the dictates of practical reason?

3. What is it about “practical reason” that we all share and is morally significant?
4. Can you distinguish between Kant’s conception of practical reason as the ultimate

form of autonomy and the utilitarian conception of reason as merely instrumental?
(we explored some of the differences between these forms of reason in Week 3)
And how might his notion of practical reason compare and contrast with virtue
ethics’s understanding of practical reason?

But with Kant’s exclusive focus on pure practical reason, principled intentions, and a
formal duty to respect each individual, does his framework turn out to be too abstract?
We will therefore want to further ask:

1. What does it look like within real social relations to concretely treat, rather than
merely theoretically recognize, each person as an end in themselves? And does
Kant’s theory provide any practical guidelines here?

2. Is such an emphasis on purity of principles too abstractly theoretical? Can such an
abstract theory that emphasizes absolute moral law-following for its own sake
without consideration of certain notions of happiness substantively work toward
changing society for the better? Or in other words, can a society that treats each
individual with dignity come about without also emphasizing the practice of certain
socially creative virtues like compassion and solidarity that also seek out the
common good of happiness?

3. Following this, should (and can) acts of compassion and solidarity be understood as
a duty for duty’s sake, i.e., as a self-sacrificial suppression of desire? Shouldn’t
morality be about transforming desire, rather than suppressing it, so that
compassion might be able to consider the good of another as also a common good
for oneself?

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 5/7

This week we will also want to wrap up the first half of the quarter by comparing and
contrasting the theoretical frameworks. I’ve provided lecture notes comparatively
summarizing (

download_frd=1) all three ethical theories that should provide a touchstone for moving
forward in their practical application. Grasping the similarities and differences of all
three will be key for moving forward: as we analyze case studies you will need to
know the nuanced differences of all three theories in order to apply them
according to their distinctive logic. Your analysis of case studies will be graded
on how well you grasp the distinguishing logic and normative forms of each
ethical framework.

Quick Review and Summary of all Three Ethical Theories

A Snapshot of the Forms of Ethical Reasoning:

Virtue Ethics: Practical reason is about the transformation of desires and needs
toward higher ends of fulfilling our socially creative capabilities through virtuous
practices that allow us to transcend mere herd animals and consciously build
communities together for the sake of individual and collective flourishing. Practical
reason is then emancipatory social practice because it is about coming together for
that end of making a community of mutual flourishing in which everyone can
become an active participant in ruling together.

Utilitarianism: No practical reason as emancipatory social practice, but only
instrumental reason for calculating the most efficient means to privately meet
biological necessities and private appetites–that is, ethics is about maximizing the
consumption of sense experiences and not for realizing higher faculties or
capabilities — though we saw Mill push against this notion of instrumental rationality.
For Bentham we are primarily pleasure seeking machines, and calculating efficient
means for meeting arbitrarily programed and predetermined ends set by biological
impulses, the market, or majority rules is the sole function of reason.

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 6/7

Deontology: Instead of instrumental rationality, practical reason as higher
capability for choosing new ends beyond given nature is upheld like virtue ethics.
But it is only the formal cognitive structure and purified logical form of practical
reason: not as the social practice of transforming our nature into its higher social
form, but the cognitive ability, in privately meeting necessities, to also adhere to an
abstract rule of law universally and equally applicable.

A Brief Summary of all Three Ethical Theories on Justice


Justice is about maximizing utility for pleasure amongst the greatest amount of
people, while minimizing pain.

This makes justice a matter of abstract calculation determined by whatever
consumer trends happen to dominate, rather than determined by principles, so
that the imperative to maximize for majority rule can easily step over individuals
and minorities as well as fail to meet real human needs even for the majority.


Justice is about respecting the free will according to a principle of fairness and
equality, and thus about making sure majority power doesn’t encroach on the
individual right to make one’s own rational decision.

On this basis, and thus against utilitarianism, it grounds justice and rights on a
principle of human dignity rather than calculation – individual rights are worthy of
respect regardless of what the majority finds desirable.
Deontology’s principle of justice as fairness, however, also remains abstract,
often reducing equality to a flat homogeneity that cannot account for different
historical inequities and thus differing needs.


Justice is according to need: it is not about simply applying abstract fairness and
equality, but about cultivating the wisdom of how to concretely distribute and
allocate goods so as to meet the varying levels of need amongst differently situated
groups, not only for basic goods, but for developing the social virtues that empower
toward distinctive human excellence.

5/4/22, 12:48 AM Launchpad: Introduction to Kant’s Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 7/7

Justice according to need rather than fairness demands the harder work of
determining not only the higher needs we all have to become distinctively human
but how those needs are to be uniquely addressed in differing historical
situations—how to build real equity rather than flatten to abstract equality
requires accounting for our diverse social and historical contexts.
This view can pose difficulties if it does not articulate a substantive sense of the
common good for all, since without such it might lapse into appearing to be
arbitrarily preferential toward certain groups or predicated on existing displays of
virtue narrowly defined.

Summary of Main differences between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism

The two different senses of happiness:

a. Virtue Ethics: Happiness as flourishing according to realizing and enjoying our normative essence or highest potentials –
it is about becoming more fully human.

b. Utilitarianism: Happiness as accumulating and consuming immediate sense pleasures –
it is about maximizing consumer preferences (without asking if it is ultimately good for humanity because there is no higher human essence to realize)

i. But utilitarianism still presupposes a normative sense of what it means to be human also, which it projects from its experience of the capitalist market.

Two different
normative senses of the human and reason:

a. Virtue Ethics: We are primarily rational and political animals. This means we are inherently social and creatively relational persons.

i. Reason is that capacity we have to collectively organize our lives together so as to flourish according to our highest social nature as an end in itself.

1. Rationality is
teleological (purposeful): to reason means to discover and conceptualize the end or purpose of a thing—it is about knowing what a thing’s most excellent form is, and how to find the fitting means for realizing holistically its qualitative fulfillment.

i. For Aristotle, our rational capacity develops not as an indifferent and purely individual cognitive capacity, but as a social capacity to reason about and imagine together a higher common good.

ii. As
rational animals we are not just reason-using animals. The end-goal of reason oriented to the common good is human freedom, and the form of freedom is rational self-determination: the liberation from irrational forces through the rationality of virtuous activity.

b. Utilitarianism: We are primarily consuming and possessive individuals who competitively seek private pleasure by dominating each other—we have no inherent social or rational qualities, but are slaves to instincts, impulses and drives.

“That one human being will desire to render the person and property of another subservient to his pleasures …
is a grand governing law of human nature … the grand instrument for attaining what a man likes is the actions of other men.”

James Mill,
Government, section IV

i. Reason is not inherent to a social nature as a coordinating activity around higher ends: it is only a cold, indifferent calculator—that capacity we have to perform cost-benefit analysis
in service to private irrational wants and market demands.

1. Rationality is purely instrumental—it is a functional device but not the end goal or form of a self-determining being: it’s not about
becoming rational but about calculating efficient means to our appetites and irrational ends.

2. This means reason is not purposeful: it pertains solely to quantitative efficiency rather than choosing new qualitative ends. It is not identified with the freedom to choose
truly emancipatory ends in themselves, but only to choose various efficient means to whatever predetermined ends (as irrationally given already by drives and instincts or market demands)

The two different senses of value:

a. Virtue Ethics: Value is inherent to the object or activity valued—it is the attractive power of the object that draws us.

i. Things have value according to their purpose or
use, e.g. a hammer’s value is relative to its function, and its functional use is relative to a higher end in itself (like building a house for the higher quality of living).

ii. Other things have intrinsic value as an end in itself, e.g. a community is to be valued for its own sake: the activity of socializing/fellowship is a qualitative good in itself, since it is true to the fulfillment of our social nature (and not something to be used for lower functions).

1. Economic value is then determined according to the social usefulness for perfecting the objective needs of humanity as an end in itself, rather than human communities being used as a means for privately producing commercial exchange values solely to make money.

b. Utilitarianism: Value is conferred arbitrarily by the mere fact that consumers happen to privately desire something – as long as we get some pleasure (real or perceived), it doesn’t matter what the object is or its objective function.

i. In other words, all value is relative to the contingencies of market exchange and price: it is ultimately set according to the arbitrary dictates of consumer demand and fluctuating monetary price, and not according to inherent qualities, purposes or ends in themselves.

1. Viewing all things as potential units of private pleasure means that all things are potentially commodities to be bought and sold on the market, and therefore measurable by a monetary value. This view requires denying any objective values or intrinsic purposes to nature or humans that might resist monetization.

2. The economic activity of the community does not have any internal purpose or common good, but rather serves the external ends of producing exchange value for the market so that money can be privately accumulated—the social means of production are privatized, and the social form of surplus is in the form of private profit.

The two different senses of society:

a. Virtue Ethics:
Holism – community is more than a mere aggregate of individuals or a mere convenient alliance: it is made possible by collective creativity, cooperation, and the sharing of social wealth. It thereby emerges into a new whole for its own sake, with greater social relations and qualities that allow individuals to flourish together at a higher level

b. society = a whole greater than the sum of its parts: think of society like a symphony, revealing new properties that make possible new capabilities in the members that would have hitherto been unknown.

i. The purpose of politics is to holistically unfold our higher social and rational capabilities for becoming active agents. It is about becoming active citizens in building community for its own sake.

1. This means politics is essentially oriented to (if not always in actual practice) the common good of transforming our relationships into a community of friends as an end in itself.

c. Utilitarianism:
Atomism – society is understood as nothing more than a mere aggregate of private individuals who are externally related, competing with one another to accumulate private property, and coming together only to use each other for their particular ends.

d. Society is a void space in which individuals confront one another as bare individuals and not as members of a greater whole or common good. Think of random billiard balls colliding with each other, producing no greater whole or new properties no matter how they are arranged since they will always remain single units of quantitative force randomly related.

i. In other words, social life is seen as just an artificial body of commercial transactions and legal contracts between competing individuals in order to protect their private property from each other—this is a view that emerges only once a society is habituated to the total privatization of its social means of production—our material life activities are then no longer recognizably communal because they are organized as commodities on the basis of wage contracts for the arbitrary ends of someone else’s private profit.

ii. Politics is not for perfecting humanity as active social agents, but just a procedural and regulatory mechanism for controlling the chaos of competing private self-interests amongst individualistic consumers.


Political institutions are simply about maintaining an equilibrium amongst the competing forces of our base nature (i.e. balancing class division), and not about transforming human nature into new relationships that develop higher rational and social qualities (beyond class divisions).

2. Some philosophers characterize this difference of our modern political liberalism as a “politics of lesser evil” rather than a politics of the common good.

They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they
have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny,
which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only
when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall
be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the con-
quests made from the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of
scientific discoverers become the common property of the species,
and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot.

Book IV, Chapter VII
On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes

1. . . . When I speak, either in this place or elsewhere, of “the labour-
ing classes,” or of labourers as a “class,” I use those phrases in com-
pliance with custom, and as descriptive of an existing, but by no
means a necessary or permanent, state of social relations. I do not
recognize as either just or salutary, a state of society in which there is
any “class” which is not labouring; any human beings exempt from
bearing their share of the necessary labours of human life, except
those unable to labour, or who have fairly earned rest by previous toil.
So long, however, as the great social evil exists of a non-labouring
class, labourers also constitute a class, and may be spoken of, though
only provisionally, in that character.

Considered in its moral and social aspect, the state of the labour-
ing people has latterly been a subject of much more speculation and
discussion than formerly; and the opinion that it is not now what it
ought to be has become very general. The suggestions which have
been promulgated, and the controversies which have been excited,
on detached points rather than on the foundations of the subject,
have put in evidence the existence of two conflicting theories,
respecting the social position desirable for manual labourers. The
one may be called the theory of dependence and protection, the
other that of self-dependence.

According to the former theory, the lot of the poor, in all things
which affect them collectively, should be regulated for them, not by
them. They should not be required or encouraged to think for them-
selves, or give to their own reflection or forecast an influential voice
in the determination of their destiny. It is supposed to be the duty of
the higher classes to think for them, and to take the responsibility of
their lot, as the commander and officers of an army take that of the

Book IV, Chapter VII192

soldiers composing it. . . . The relation between rich and poor,
according to this theory (a theory also applied to the relation between
men and women), should be only partly authoritative; it should be
amiable, moral, and sentimental: affectionate tutelage on the one
side, respectful and grateful deference on the other. The rich should
be in loco parentis to the poor, guiding and restraining them like chil-
dren. Of spontaneous action on their part, there should be no need.
They should be called on for nothing but to do their day’s work, and
to be moral and religious. Their morality and religion should be pro-
vided for them by their superiors, who should see them properly
taught it, and should do all that is necessary to ensure their being, in
return for labour and attachment, properly fed, clothed, housed, spir-
itually edified, and innocently amused.

This is the ideal of the future, in the minds of those whose dissat-
isfaction with the Present assumes the form of affection and regret
towards the Past. Like other ideals, it exercises an unconscious influ-
ence on the opinions and sentiments of numbers who never con-
sciously guide themselves by any ideal. It has also this in common
with other ideals, that it has never been historically realized. It makes
its appeal to our imaginative sympathies in the character of a restora-
tion of the good times of our forefathers. But no times can be point-
ed out in which the higher classes of this or any other country per-
formed a part even distantly resembling the one assigned to them in
this theory. It is an idealization, grounded on the conduct and char-
acter of here and there an individual. All privileged and powerful
classes, as such, have used their power in the interest of their own self-
ishness, and have indulged their self-importance in despising, and
not in lovingly caring for, those who were, in their estimation, degrad-
ed by being under the necessity of working for their benefit. I do not
affirm that what has always been must always be, or that human
improvement has no tendency to correct the intensely selfish fillings
engendered by power; but though the evil may be lessened, it cannot
be eradicated until the power itself is withdrawn. This, at least, seems
to me undeniable, that long before the superior classes could be suf-
ficiently improved to govern in the tutelary manner supposed, the
inferior classes would be too much improved to be so governed.

I am quite sensible of all that is seductive in the picture of socie-
ty which this theory presents. . . . As the idea is essentially repulsive
of a society only held together by the relations and feelings arising
out of pecuniary interests, so there is something naturally attractive
in a form of society abounding in strong personal attachments and
disinterested self-devotion. Of such feelings, it must be admitted that

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 193

the relation of protector and protected has hitherto been the richest
source. The strongest attachments of human beings in general are
towards the things or the persons that stand between them and some
dreaded evil. Hence, in an age of lawless violence and insecurity,
and general hardness and roughness of manners, in which life is
beset with dangers and sufferings at every step . . . a generous giving
of protection, and a grateful receiving of it, are the strongest ties
which connect human beings; the feelings arising from that relation
are their warmest feelings; all the enthusiasm and tenderness of the
most sensitive natures gather round it; loyalty on the one part and
chivalry on the other are principles exalted into passions. I do not
desire to depreciate these qualities. The error lies in not perceiving
that these virtues and sentiments . . . can no longer have this beauti-
ful and endearing character where there are no longer any serious
dangers from which to protect. What is there in the present state of
society to make it natural that human beings, of ordinary strength
and courage, should glow with the warmest gratitude and devotion
in return for protection? The laws protect them, wherever the laws
do not criminally fail in their duty. To be under the power of some-
one, instead of being, as formerly, the sole condition of safety, is now,
speaking generally, the only situation which exposes to grievous
wrong. The so-called protectors are now the only persons against
whom, in any ordinary circumstances, protection is needed. The
brutality and tyranny with which every police report is filled are
those of husbands to wives, of parents to children. That the law does
not prevent these atrocities, that it is only now making a first timid
attempt to repress and punish them, is no matter of necessity, but the
deep disgrace of those by whom the laws are made and administered.
No man or woman who either possesses or is able to earn an inde-
pendent livelihood, requires any other protection than that which
the law could and ought to give. This being the case, it argues great
ignorance of human nature to continue taking for granted that rela-
tions founded on protection must always subsist, and not to see that
the assumption of the part of protector, and of the power which
belongs to it, without any of the necessities which justify it, must
engender feelings opposite to loyalty.

Of the working men, at least in the more advanced countries of
Europe, it may be pronounced certain that the patriarchal or pater-
nal system of government is one to which they will not again be sub-
ject. That question was decided when they were taught to read, and
allowed access to newspapers and political tracts; when dissenting
preachers were suffered to go among them, and appeal to their facul-

Book IV, Chapter VII194

ties and feelings in opposition to the creeds professed and counte-
nanced by their superiors; when they were brought together in num-
bers, to work socially under the same roof; when railways enabled
them to shift from place to place, and change their patrons and
employers as easily as their coats; when they were encouraged to seek
a share in the government, by means of the electoral franchise. The
working classes have taken their interests into their own hands, and
are perpetually showing that they think the interests of their employ-
ers not identical with their own, but opposite to them. . . .

2. . . . The poor have come out of leading-strings, and cannot any
longer be governed or treated like children. To their own qualities
must now be commended the care of their destiny. Modern nations
will have to learn the lesson that the well-being of a people must exist
by means of the justice and self-government . . . of the individual cit-
izens. . . . Whatever advice, exhortation, or guidance is held out to the
labouring classes, must henceforth be tendered to them as equals, and
accepted by them with their eyes open. The prospect of the future
depends on the degree in which they can be made rational beings.

There is no reason to believe that prospect other than hopeful.
The progress indeed has hitherto been, and still is, slow. But there is
a spontaneous education going on in the minds of the multitude. . . .
The instruction obtained from newspapers and political tracts may
not be the most solid kind of instruction, but it is an immense
improvement upon none at all. . . . [T]here is reason to hope that
great improvements . . . in . . . school education will be effected by
the exertions either of government or of individuals, and that the
progress of the mass of the people in mental cultivation, and in the
virtues which are dependent on it, will take place more rapidly. . . .

From this increase of intelligence, several effects may be confi-
dently anticipated. First: that they will become even less willing than
at present to be led and governed, and directed into the way they
should go, by the mere authority and prestige of superiors. If they
have not now, still less will they have hereafter, any deferential awe
or religious principle of obedience, holding them in mental subjec-
tion to a class above them. The theory of dependence and protection
will be more and more intolerable to them, and they will require that
their conduct and condition shall be essentially self-governed. It is, at
the same time, quite possible that they may demand, in many cases,
the intervention of the legislature in their affairs, and the regulation
by law of various things which concern them, often under very mis-
taken ideas of their interest. Still, it is their own will, their own ideas
and suggestions, to which they will demand that effect should be

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 195

given, and not rules laid down for them by other people. It is quite
consistent with this that they should feel respect for superiority of
intellect and knowledge, and defer much to the opinions, on any sub-
ject, of those whom they think well acquainted with it. Such defer-
ence is deeply grounded in human nature; but they will judge for
themselves of the persons who are and are not entitled to it.

3. It appears to me impossible but that the increase of intelligence,
of education, and of the love of independence among the working
classes, must be attended with a corresponding growth of the good
sense which manifests itself in provident habits of conduct; and that
population, therefore, will bear a gradually diminishing ratio to cap-
ital and employment. This most desirable result would be much
accelerated by another change, which lies in the direct line of the
best tendencies of the time; the opening of industrial occupations
freely to both sexes. The same reasons which make it no longer nec-
essary that the poor should depend on the rich, make it equally
unnecessary that women should depend on men; and the least which
justice requires is that law and custom should not enforce depend-
ence (when the correlative protection has become superfluous) by
ordaining that a woman, who does not happen to have a provision by
inheritance, shall have scarcely any means open to her of gaining a
livelihood, except as a wife and mother. Let women who prefer that
occupation adopt it; but that there should be no option, no other car-
rière possible for the great majority of women, except in the humbler
departments of life, is a flagrant social injustice. The ideas and insti-
tutions by which the accident of sex is made the groundwork of an
inequality of legal rights, and a forced dissimilarity of social func-
tions, must ere long be recognized as the greatest hindrance to moral,
social, and even intellectual improvement. On the present occasion,
I shall only indicate, among the probable consequences of the indus-
trial and social independence of women, a great diminution of the
evil of over-population. It is by devoting one-half of the human
species to that exclusive function, by making it fill the entire life of
one sex and interweave itself with almost all the objects of the other,
that the animal instinct in question is nursed into the disproportion-
ate preponderance which it has hitherto exercised in human life.

4. . . . In the present stage of human progress, when ideas of
equality are daily spreading more widely among the poorer classes,
and can no longer be checked by anything short of the entire sup-
pression of printed discussion and even of freedom of speech, it is
not to be expected that the division of the human race into two
hereditary classes, employers and employed, can be permanently

Book IV, Chapter VII196

maintained. The relation is nearly as unsatisfactory to the payer of
wages as to the receiver. If the rich regard the poor as, by a kind of
natural law, their servants and dependents, the rich, in their turn, are
regarded as a mere prey and pasture for the poor; the subject of
demands and expectations wholly indefinite, increasing in extent
with every concession made to them. The total absence of regard for
justice or fairness in the relations between the two, is as marked on
the side of the employed as on that of the employers. We look in vain
among the working classes in general for the just pride which will
choose to give good work for good wages; for the most part, their sole
endeavour is to receive as much, and return as little in the shape of
service, as possible. It will sooner or later become insupportable to
the employing classes, to live in close and hourly contact with per-
sons whose interests and feelings are in hostility to them. Capitalists
are almost as much interested as labourers in placing the operations
of industry on such a footing, that those who labour for them may
feel the same interest in the work, which is felt by those who labour
on their own account.

The opinion expressed in a former part of this treatise, respecting
small landed properties and peasant proprietors, may have made the
reader anticipate that a wide diffusion of property in land is the
resource on which I rely for exempting at least the agricultural
labourers from exclusive dependence on labour for hire. Such, how-
ever, is not my opinion. . . .

[A] people who have once adopted the large system of production,
either in manufactures or in agriculture, are not likely to recede from
it; and when population is kept in due proportion to the means of
support, it is not desirable that they should. Labour is unquestionably
more productive on the system of large industrial enterprises; the pro-
duce, if not greater absolutely, is greater in proportion to the labour
employed: the same number of persons can be supported equally
well with less toil and greater leisure; which will be wholly an advan-
tage, as soon as civilization and improvement have so far advanced
that what is a benefit to the whole shall be a benefit to each individ-
ual composing it. And in the moral aspect of the question, which is
still more important than the economical, something better should
be aimed at as the goal of industrial improvement, than to disperse
mankind over the earth in single families, each ruled internally, as
families now are, by a patriarchal despot, and having scarcely any
community of interest, or necessary mental communion, with other
human beings. The domination of the head of the family over the
other members, in this state of things, is absolute; while the effect on

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 197

his own mind tends towards concentration of all interests in the fam-
ily, considered as an expansion of self, and absorption of all passions
in that of exclusive possession, of all cares in those of preservation
and acquisition. As a step out of the merely animal state into the
human, out of reckless abandonment to brute instincts into pruden-
tial foresight and self-government, this moral condition may be seen
without displeasure. But if public spirit, generous sentiments, or true
justice and equality are desired, association, not isolation, of interests,
is the school in which these excellences are nurtured. The aim of
improvement should be not solely to place human beings in a con-
dition in which they will be able to do without one another, but to
enable them to work with or for one another in relations not involv-
ing dependence. Hitherto there has been no alternative for those
who lived by their labour, but that of labouring either each for him-
self alone, or for a master. But the civilizing and improving influ-
ences of association, and the efficiency and economy of production
on a large scale, may be obtained without dividing the producers into
two parties with hostile interests and feelings, the many who do the
work being mere servants under the command of the one who sup-
plies the funds, and having no interest of their own in the enterprise
except to earn their wages with as little labour as possible. The spec-
ulations and discussions of the last fifty years, and the events of the
last thirty, are abundantly conclusive on this point. . . . [T]he relation
of masters and work-people will be gradually superseded by partner-
ship, in one of two forms: in some cases, association of the labourers
with the capitalist; in others, and perhaps finally in all, association of
labourers among themselves.

5. The first of these forms of association has long been practiced,
not indeed as a rule, but as an exception. In several departments of
industry, there are already cases in which everyone who contributes
to the work, either by labour or by pecuniary resources, has a part-
ner’s interest in it, proportional to the value of his contribution. It is
already a common practice to remunerate those in whom peculiar
trust is reposed, by means of a percentage on the profits; and cases
exist in which the principle is, with excellent success, carried down
to the class of mere manual labourers. . . .

Mr. Babbage,2 who also gives an account of this system, observes
that the payment to the crews of whaling ships is governed by a sim-

Book IV, Chapter VII198

2 [Mill cites Babbage’s Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, 3rd ed., chapter 26.]

ilar principle; and that “the profits arising from fishing with nets on
the south coast of England are thus divided: one-half the produce
belongs to the owner of the boat and net; the other half is divided in
equal portions between the persons using it, who are also bound to
assist in repairing the net when required.” Mr. Babbage has the great
merit of having pointed out the practicability, and the advantage, of
extending the principle to manufacturing industry generally. . . .

6. The form of association, however, which if mankind continues
to improve, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that
which can exist between a capitalist as chief and work-people with-
out a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers
themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with
which they carry on their operations, and working under managers
elected and removable by themselves. So long as this idea remained
in a state of theory, in the writings of Owen or of Louis Blanc, it may
have appeared, to the common modes of judgment, incapable of
being realized, and not likely to be tried, unless by seizing on the
existing capital and confiscating it for the benefit of the labourers;
which is even now imagined by many persons, and pretended by
more, both in England and on the Continent, to be the meaning and
purpose of Socialism. But there is a capacity of exertion and self-
denial in the masses of mankind, which is never known but on the
rare occasions on which it is appealed to in the name of some great
idea or elevated sentiment. Such an appeal was made by the French
Revolution of 1848. For the first time, it then seemed to the intelli-
gent and generous of the working classes of a great nation, that they
had obtained a government who sincerely desired the freedom and
dignity of the many, and who did not look upon it as their natural and
legitimate state to be instruments of production, worked for the ben-
efit of the possessors of capital. Under this encouragement, the ideas
sown by Socialist writers of an emancipation of labour to be effected
by means of association, throve and fructified; and many working
people came to the resolution, not only that they would work for one
another, instead of working for a master tradesman or manufacturer,
but that they would also free themselves, at whatever cost of labour
or privation, from the necessity of paying, out of the produce of their
industry, a heavy tribute for the use of capital; that they would extin-
guish this tax, not by robbing the capitalists of what they or their
predecessors had acquired by labour and preserved by economy, but
by honestly acquiring capital for themselves. If only a few operatives
had attempted this arduous task, or if, while many attempted it, a few
only had succeeded, their success might have been deemed to fur-

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 199

nish no argument for their system as a permanent mode of industri-
al organization. But, excluding all the instances of failure, there exist,
or existed a short time ago, upwards of a hundred successful, and
many eminently prosperous, associations of operatives in Paris alone,
besides a considerable number in the departments. . . .

The capital of most of the associations was originally confined to
the few tools belonging to the founders, and the small sums which
could be collected from their savings, or which were lent to them by
other workpeople as poor as themselves. In some cases, however,
loans of capital were made to them by the republican government;
but the associations which obtained these advances, or at least which
obtained them before they had already achieved success, are, it
appears, in general by no means the most prosperous. The most strik-
ing instances of prosperity are in the case of those who have had noth-
ing to rely on but their own slender means and the small loans of fel-
low workmen, and who lived on bread and water while they devoted
the whole surplus of their gains to the formation of a capital. . . .

The same admirable qualities by which the associations were car-
ried through their early struggles, maintained them in their increas-
ing prosperity. Their rules of discipline, instead of being more lax, are
stricter than those of ordinary workshops; but being rules self-
imposed, for the manifest good of the community, and not for the
convenience of an employer regarded as having an opposite interest,
they are far more scrupulously obeyed, and the voluntary obedience
carries with it a sense of personal worth and dignity. With wonderful
rapidity, the associated workpeople have learnt to correct those of the
ideas they set out with which are in opposition to the teaching of rea-
son and experience. Almost all the associations, at first, excluded
piece-work, and gave equal wages whether the work done was more
or less. Almost all have abandoned this system, and after allowing to
everyone a fixed minimum, sufficient for subsistence, they apportion
all further remuneration according to the work done: most of them
even dividing the profits at the end of the year, in the same propor-
tion as the earnings.

It is the declared principle of most of these associations that they
do not exist for the mere private benefit of the individual members,
but for the promotion of the co-operative cause. With every exten-
sion, therefore, of their business, they take in additional members, not
(when they remain faithful to their original plan) to receive wages
from them as hired labourers, but to enter at once into the full bene-
fits of the association, without being required to bring anything in
except their labour: the only condition imposed is that of receiving,

Book IV, Chapter VII200

during a few years, a smaller share in the annual division of profits, as
some equivalent for the sacrifices of the founders. When members
quit the association, which they are always at liberty to do, they carry
none of the capital with them: it remains an indivisible property, of
which the members, for the time being, have the use, but not the
arbitrary disposal; by the stipulations of most of the contracts, even if
the association breaks up, the capital cannot be divided, but must be
devoted entire to some work of beneficence or of public utility. A
fixed, and generally a considerable, proportion of the annual profits is
not shared among the members, but added to the capital of the asso-
ciation, or devoted to the repayment of advances previously made to
it; another portion is set aside to provide for the sick and disabled, and
another to form a fund for extending the practice of association, or
aiding other associations in their need. The managers are paid, like
other members, for the time which is occupied in management, usu-
ally at the rate of the highest paid labour; but the rule is adhered to,
that the exercise of power shall never be an occasion of profit. . . .

The vitality of these associations must indeed be great, to have
enabled about twenty of them to survive not only the anti-socialist
reaction, which for the time discredited all attempts to enable
workpeople to be their own employers—not only the tracasseries of
the police, and the hostile policy of the government since the usurpa-
tion—but in addition to these obstacles, all the difficulties arising
from the trying condition of financial and commercial affairs from
1854 to 1858. Of the prosperity attained by some of them even while
passing through this difficult period, I have given examples which
must be conclusive to all minds as to the brilliant future reserved for
the principle of co-operation. . . .

It is hardly possible to take any but a hopeful view of the
prospects of mankind when, in two leading countries of the world,
the obscure depths of society contain simple working men whose
integrity, good sense, self-command, and honourable confidence in
one another, have enabled them to carry these noble experiments to
the triumphant issue which the facts recorded in the preceding
pages attest.3

From the progressive advance of the co-operative movement, a
great increase may be looked for even in the aggregate productive-
ness of industry. . . .

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 201

3 [Ed.—I have omitted the many specific examples described by Mill.]

[C]o-operation tends . . . to increase the productiveness of labour
. . . by placing the labourers, as a mass, in a relation to their work
which would make it their principle and their interest—at present it
is neither—to do the utmost, instead of the least possible, in
exchange for their remuneration. It is scarcely possible to rate too
highly this material benefit, which yet is as nothing compared with
the moral revolution in society that would accompany it: the healing
of the standing feud between capital and labour; the transformation
of human life, from a conflict of classes struggling for opposite inter-
ests, to a friendly rivalry in the pursuit of a good common to all; the
elevation of the dignity of labour; a new sense of security and inde-
pendence in the labouring class; and the conversion of each human
being’s daily occupation into a school of the social sympathies and
the practical intelligence.

Such is the noble idea which the promoters of Co-operation
should have before them. But to attain, in any degree, these objects,
it is indispensable that all, and not some only, of those who do the
work should be identified in interest with the prosperity of the under-
taking. . . .

Under the most favourable supposition, it will be desirable, and
perhaps for a considerable length of time, that individual capitalists,
associating their work-people in the profits, should coexist with even
those co-operative societies which are faithful to the co-operative
principle. Unity of authority makes many things possible, which
could not or would not be undertaken subject to the chance of divid-
ed councils or changes in the management. A private capitalist,
exempt from the control of a body, if he is a person of capacity, is con-
siderably more likely than almost any association to run judicious
risks, and originate costly improvements. Co-operative societies may
be depended on for adopting improvements after they have been test-
ed by success, but individuals are more likely to commence things
previously untried. Even in ordinary business, the competition of
capable persons who, in the event of failure, are to have all the loss,
and in the case of success, the greater part of the gain, will be very
useful in keeping the managers of co-operative societies up to the
due pitch of activity and vigilance.

When, however, co-operative societies shall have sufficiently mul-
tiplied, it is not probable that any but the least valuable work-people
will any longer consent to work all their lives for wages merely; both
private capitalists and associations will gradually find it necessary to
make the entire body of labourers participants in profits. Eventually,
and in perhaps a less remote future than may be supposed, we may,

Book IV, Chapter VII202

through the co-operative principle, see our way to a change in socie-
ty, which would combine the freedom and independence of the indi-
vidual with the moral, intellectual, and economical advantages of
aggregate production; and which, without violence or spoliation, or
even any sudden disturbance of existing habits and expectations,
would realize, at least in the industrial department, the best aspira-
tions of the democratic spirit, by putting an end to the division of
society into the industrious and the idle, and effacing all social dis-
tinctions but those fairly earned by personal services and exertions.
Associations like those which we have described, by the very process
of their success, are a course of education in those moral and active
qualities by which alone success can be either deserved or attained.
As associations multiplied, they would tend more and more to absorb
all work-people, except those who have too little understanding, or
too little virtue, to be capable of learning to act on any other system
than that of narrow selfishness. As this change proceeded, owners of
capital would gradually find it to their advantage, instead of main-
taining the struggle of the old system with work-people of only the
worst description, to lend their capital to the associations; to do this
at a diminishing rate of interest, and at last, perhaps, even to
exchange their capital for terminable annuities. In this or some such
mode, the existing accumulations of capital might honestly, and by a
kind of spontaneous process, become in the end the joint property of
all who participate in their productive employment: a transformation
which, thus effected, (and assuming, of course, that both sexes partic-
ipate equally in the rights and in the government of the association)
would be the nearest approach to social justice, and the most benefi-
cial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is
possible at present to foresee.

7. I agree, then, with the Socialist writers in their conception of
the form which industrial operations tend to assume in the advance
of improvement; and I entirely share their opinion that the time is
ripe for commencing this transformation, and that it should, by all
just and effectual means, be aided and encouraged. But while I agree
and sympathize with Socialists in this practical portion of their aims,
I utterly dissent from the most conspicuous and vehement part of
their teaching, their declamations against competition. . . . They for-
get that wherever competition is not, monopoly is; and that monop-
oly, in all its forms, is the taxation of the industrious for the support
of indolence, if not of plunder. They forget, too, that with the excep-
tion of competition among labourers, all other competition is for the
benefit of the labourers, by cheapening the articles they consume;

On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes 203

that competition even in the labour market is a source not of low but
of high wages, wherever the competition for labour exceeds the com-
petition of labour, as in America, in the colonies, and in the skilled
trades; and never could be a cause of low wages, save by the over-
stocking of the labour market through the too great numbers of the
labourers’ families; while, if the supply of labourers is excessive, not
even Socialism can prevent their remuneration from being low.
Besides, if association were universal, there would be no competition
between labourer and labourer; and that between association and
association would be for the benefit of the consumers—that is, of the
associations; of the industrious classes generally.

I do not pretend that there are no inconveniences in competition,
or that the moral objections urged against it by Socialist writers, as a
source of jealousy and hostility among those engaged in the same
occupation, are altogether groundless. But if competition has its
evils, it prevents greater evils. . . . It is the common error of Socialists
to overlook the natural indolence of mankind; their tendency to be
passive, to be the slaves of habit, to persist indefinitely in a course
once chosen. Let them once attain any state of existence which they
consider tolerable, and the danger to be apprehended is that they will
thenceforth stagnate; will not exert themselves to improve, and by let-
ting their faculties rust, will lose even the energy required to preserve
them from deterioration. Competition may not be the best conceiv-
able stimulus, but it is at present a necessary one, and no one can
foresee the time when it will not be indispensable to progress. . . .

Book IV, Chapter VII204

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As we enter into our modern capitalist world and its mechanistic view of nature, we will
see that utilitarianism emerges as its natural ethical framework because it also
functions in an entirely mechanical and calculating way.

Of course virtue ethics and utilitarianism both use the words “good” and “happiness” in
a central way to their ethical reasoning. Some philosophers have even lumped these
two theories under the category of “consequentialism” because they consider actions
according to their consequences for obtaining happiness. But there are very important
differences between these two frameworks — and they come about from the important
historical changes to society and the economy that we’ve already explored. The key
will be to understand their differing senses of the normative form of human nature. My
lecture notes comparing and contrasting virtue ethics and utilitarianism
download_frd=1) provides some ways to think about their main differences. But before
you begin comparing and contrasting the two frameworks, I want you to dive into the
works of Bentham and then Mill. There is a nice simplicity to their ethical reasoning
that many have been drawn toward. We will want to first spell out the simple thread,
but then ask bigger questions about it, especially whether it is too reductive and not
comprehensive enough for understanding our qualitatively complex human nature.

Jeremy Bentham provided the first detailed philosophical account of utilitarianism.
Writing during the rise of the English industrial revolution, he wanted to accommodate
the commercialization of society with a simple method of ethical calculation no different
from determining market values. He measures and calculates pains and pleasures just
as an accountant takes up cost-benefit analysis. We want to understand not only his
method, but his presuppositions about human nature that led him to develop his ethical
reasoning. Some key questions to ask while reading Bentham:

How does he understand human beings and the nature of society (what does he
call community)?

Is the human anything more than an individualistic pleasure-seeking machine?
is society a whole greater than the sum of its parts?

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Or is it nothing more than an aggregate of private individuals competing against
each other?
What’s the difference in such understandings of society, and why would it matter
for how we understand ethics? (remember the historical origins of ethics as both
an individual and collective endeavor to determine the common good together)

More Key Questions to Ask
If happiness is equated solely with physical pleasure and the avoidance of pain, can
this account for the rich complexities of our human desires, especially insofar as
they are educated and refined into higher forms? Don’t we desire more than just
physical pleasures?
Is it really true that the only evidence for something being desirable is whether
people actually desire it? There are many things that people desire that might not
be truly good and desirable, just as there are many things good for us that a
majority might not happen to actually desire.

Are there certain objects that should attract our desire for their own sake, or is
desire nothing other than the subjective feelings and preferences we project onto

Does the logic here assume that humanity is anything more than an aggregate of
individualistically consuming animals?

John Stuart Mill learned from Bentham as his student, and while he accepted the main
thrust of Bentham’s utilitarianism, he also saw some of its shortcomings and tried to
provide more nuanced answers to the questions above. The lecture notes for
Bentham (
wrap=1) (
download_frd=1) and the lecture notes for Mill
download_frd=1) break down the argument of both and should help you better
understand what is at stake in their arguments. But let me provide some brief key
ideas to think about with John Stuart Mill’s views.

Key Points for Mill

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You will see in Mill’s work and in my lecture notes on Mill, that he is not entirely
satisfied with the simplistic utilitarian logic and its presupposed view of human nature.
Try to follow the ways he begins to press against it as he argues that there are some
qualities distinctive to human nature that are higher than others and therefore require a
higher level of satisfaction. And especially ask whether he can make such an argument
within the original logic of utilitarianism provided by Bentham without transforming it in
the direction of virtue ethics.

One key point that we need to reflect on in Mill is his critical application of his ethics to
an economic analysis. The more Mill provides a nuanced challenge within utilitarianism
the more he is forced to critique business as usual within the capitalist economy of his
day. This seems to be especially the case when he articulates a normative sense of
human nature more in line with virtue ethics. As we saw last week with Merchant’s
reading, the modern mechanized view of nature sees humans as essentially egotistical
pleasure machines because it is based in a mode of privately owned production
organized solely for exchange value and thus private profit. But Mill begins to question
this view of humanity, as noted above, claiming we have higher social qualities much
like Aristotle. I want you all to reflect on what this means for Mill’s analysis of political
economy. Like virtue ethics he is concerned that our economic relations of
production are producing only worker bees or herd animals rather than realizing
our truly human capacities. Try to follow especially his critical view of the capitalist
relations of production, what he means by a cooperative restructuring, and why he
sees a transformation toward a cooperative structure as necessary for fulfilling

1. What is dehumanizing about capitalist relations of production?
2. What does he mean by cooperative relations of production? Notice that Mill does

not necessarily endorse certain state-socialist notions of government ownership of
production. So under his cooperative principles and structures, who would own
society’s means of production?

3. And why is this change in ownership a necessary transformation for humanity to
ethically flourish?

4. What is his presupposed view of human nature that seems to be driving this critical

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The big question to ask moving forward, which Aristotle already presented, but
Mill brings back to the fore against Bentham:

If we believe human nature holds higher rational potentials and social
qualities beyond the utilitarian view, then how can we continue to justify the
private ownership of society’s means of production and its use for private
profit, rather than production as more adequately democratized and for the
purpose of meeting our real social needs?


Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Art by Anselm Kiefer

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” – Kant

I. The historical context:

“Liberty Leading the People” – Eugene Delacroix (ca. 1830)

II. What is distinctive about human freedom?

a. What matters is the good will alone acting freely without determination by possible consequences:

“For reason recognizes the establishment of a good will as its highest practical destination.” Kant,
Metaphysics of Morals, p. 14

i. For Kant a good will obeys only itself—its logical structure—and does not act according to ulterior motives.

ii. This means any morality that determines right actions in terms of rewards and punishments is not really moral for Kant.

iii. This applies to utilitarianism’s consequentialism based as it is on the end goal of getting pleasures. Kant’s critique of utilitarianism:

1. The mere fact that people—regardless of majority consensus—happen to hold to this or that experience of sense pleasures does not mean that particular activity and its consequent pleasure are ethically right or just.

a. Actions based on the attainment of particular pleasures are fleeting and differ from place to place. What is needed is a universal principle or norm by which to judge the relative interests, preferences, and desires in the first place.

2. More specifically, basing morality entirely on contingent desires for particular pleasures fails to grasp what morality is really about:

a. As Kant says:
“Making man happy is quite different from making him good,” which requires learning how to reason about universally shared principles of right and wrong based on true

i. In pursuing happiness as the private experience of pleasure, utilitarianism, according to Kant, only teaches us how to become better calculators of cost/benefit in submitting to passions and sensuous experiences, thus keeping us enslaved to the ends given by sensation and impulse.

ii. But in uncritically accepting these externally given ends and focusing only on efficient means in meeting them, utilitarianism fails to teach what is most important in morality:
how to rightly choose distinctively human ends in order to be “free” from externally imposed ends.

How to become authors of our own purposes rather than instruments or batteries for someone or something else.

iii. Without the ability to choose the ends themselves rather than merely the means, we would remain a slave to our appetites and their needed objects, as well as
their commercial/customary mediation, which would be to live under the sovereign master of pleasure and pain like any other animal.

3. What distinguishes morality for Kant, therefore, is that it is based on the distinctive nature of human

a. What makes our freedom distinctive is that it is based on our inherent
rational capacity
to set our own ends
for their own sake, rather than only choosing amongst means for those ends already predetermined by our easily manipulated tastes and desires.

i. We can at times defer biological needs in order to pursue higher rational ideals –

We do not always obey our thirst (nor do we need a moral command to do so)

b. Unlike utilitarians, but like Aristotle, Kant affirms that we are inherently rational animals. This means that he affirms a sense of reason more exalted than utilitarianism:

i. we are not just animals who happen to use reason for better managing mere survival, but rather we newly organize the ways we survive in order to live toward higher rational ideals that we choose for their own sake.

ii. For utilitarianism our rational capacity is merely a calculating instrument, with no special qualitative capacity or purpose other than to calculate the means for whatever the sovereign masters of pleasure and pain set for us. –

Obey your Thirst!

1. Reason is supposedly value-neutral – an indifferent tool able to be manipulated by and for whomever. –

Buy Sprite!

iii. For Kant, however, reason is not a mere instrument but our highest form of being. The purpose of reason is for free self-determination beyond the whims of physical needs and sensations.

1. The utilitarian use and understanding of reason is therefore self-contradictory for Kant, since it subordinates our highest quality to our lowest interests.

2. For Kant reason is value-laden as it is synonymous with freedom. The use of reason is for

liberating humanity as its own end
—to be more than a mere consuming animal, and so an actively self-determining
subject rather than a passive object of nature.

3. Rationality is about establishing higher forms of self-organization against the disorganization of lower appetites and fleeting desires.

4. Therefore, for Kant, the
end goal of reason is freedom as self-determination; and the
form of self-determining freedom is reason as such.

4. Kant distinguishes between what he calls “heteronomy” and “autonomy” in distinguishing two ways the will is determined:

Heteronomy = unfree: any action that is done for the sake of something/someone else and so obeys legislation outside itself – the will does not freely choose its own end (

i. Kant doesn’t think that these actions are necessarily immoral, but rather they are most often amoral, and thus not the basis of morality.

ii. As based in inclinations and desires a heteronomous act is dependent on drives, instincts, impulses and conventions that the will did not choose for itself but are already given by nature or society (like feeding an empty stomach).

Autonomy = free: the will choosing its own ends—that is, any action that is done for its own sake according to its own rationally determined laws. (

i. To have a will determined by its own rationality—
the legislation of its own reason—rather than the dictates of given natural necessity and its corresponding appetites and interests.

1. To be autonomous is to possess a will that can set its own rules rather than follow another,
which means it is about acting in such a way that you treat your act of willing as an end in itself.

c. So, for Kant, human freedom is distinctive insofar as it has the capacity of the free will to act according to its own self-legislating rationality beyond the calculation of appetites and interests—

to choose actions good in themselves rather than for some other reason.

b. But how do we know this sense of autonomous freedom is not just an arbitrary will acting for whatever instrumental reasons?

i. Every human has a will, and the purpose of every will is to be free, and the rational form of freedom is the same: to not contradictorily submit the will to this or that impulse or external authority, but rather to submit these different ends to the will’s own reason.

1. Kant is not saying we have the freedom to whimsically do whatever we
want – rather, he is saying that the autonomous will is free only in acting consistently with its own
law, which is to be free from acting in a self-contradictory way.

i. A will that does not act according to its own rational principles of self-legislation is a will always susceptible to contradicting itself by submitting to outside influence and external demands.

ii. Therefore, the rationality of the free will is the same for everyone—
the free will universally has the same logical structure—because it is in everyone’s interest to be truly free.

ii. The universally shared law of the free will can be briefly given:

Act in such a way that you do not contradict your autonomy.

a. It is then about acting consistently in a
principled way that is true to the will’s own pure practical reason—a will that obeys nothing other than its own universal law of self-legislation as such.

b. This is why Kant’s morality is solely concerned about intending the right act—pure acts of reason without contradiction. Hence, Kant’s emphasis on the inner motive and intentionality
of the will rather than outcomes. (it’s about following the right
principle of acting for its own sake rather than maximizing happiness)

i. Think about the exploding fuel tanks on the Ford Pinto: Kant would say Ford would need to do the right thing regardless of any cost/benefit analysis, even if that means possibly doing something that is not cost effective at all.

ii. Contrary to Kant’s position Utilitarians would not consider the
rightness of the act or a rational motive in itself, but only whether it will yield the greatest profit.

For Kant if a person did the right thing regarding Ford Pintos, such as fixing the car in order to save lives regardless of short-term financial losses, but ultimately did it according to an expanded utilitarian calculus about how it will benefit the company’s image in the long run, then it is not a truly moral act. (right outcome but wrong motivating act does not equal morally right action)

2. The point for Kant is whether you are willing to be honest, or truthful
for its own sake rather than for the sake of the bottom line (since the bottom line of profit is an external end).

a. It is then about acting from the principle of reason, which is universally shared and universally applicable, rather than from one’s own self-interests, which are particular, fleeting, and not freely chosen.

i. Kant therefore equates the rationality of a truly free will with the moral law. But what is the moral law?

III. What then is a morally good will? What is the
universal moral form of the will’s own pure practical reason?

a. A morally good will is the free will insofar as it wills its own rational act for its own sake—it obeys its own rationality, or is true to its own self-legislation (not in the clichéd sense of the phrase—“being true to oneself”—which for Kant would be more about subordinate personal feelings rather than the universality of reason we all hold).

i. What is this duty or supreme principle of morality that is imperative for the consistency of the rational will? Kant distinguishes between two imperatives:


Hypothetical imperative
: if you do A in a given context you’ll get B. They are conditional imperatives for obtaining certain results. Impure reason, reason subordinate to ends outside itself.


Categorical imperative
: do A no matter what for its own sake, regardless of B. “Categorical” means unconditional, an imperative that must be done regardless of any context or category; or rather, it must be done
universally across every category of life and time-period.

ii. The categorical imperative is then the specific rational form of any moral command for the free will, since it is to act unconditionally according to principles of
autonomous reason rather than for certain conditions.

iii. So, what more specifically is the form of this self-legislating categorical imperative?


“Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

a. The will is free to act in whatever manner as long as its actions spring from autonomous
rational principles that can be made into a universal law applicable for all:

i. E.g.: Deciding what to wear to work, or what foods to buy at the store, or how to invest your money are decisions that cannot be universalized for everyone since their contexts change, often requiring different decisions to be made—these are always hypothetical imperatives.

ii. But in deciding which foods to buy, the decision to always
honestly obtain, rather than to
steal, the food is morally universalizable:

1. Stealing is always wrong for Kant because it would always contradict the very principle of a free will (instead giving in to depraved desires), and not because it would treat others in a way you would not wanted to be treated, or because it would lead to social chaos.

2. The point here is whether the act of the will can be universally upheld according to its own rational principle without also contradicting itself, and not about whether an action would be generally desirable or beneficial for all.

b. Therefore, it is similar yet significantly different from the Golden Rule which states: “do unto others as you would
want them to do unto you”. Kant’s categorical imperative is more about a duty to the universal nature of the rational will itself, whereas the Golden Rule is tied to feelings, desires and passions in relation to pleasure and pain.

i. Kant thinks self-interests as well as majority rule can more easily manipulate the Golden Rule than the Categorical Imperative.

ii. The categorical imperative is then not about extending feelings and desires, but about respecting the universal nature of free will’s reason as an end in itself—this can be seen more clearly in his second articulation.


“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

a. All
things have relative values externally imposed, but the rationally self-determining will of any
person is an absolute value in itself.

i. Since every person has a will with a rational capacity to autonomously legislate for themselves rational principles as their own end, then every will is itself a dignified end in itself—and treating everyone as such is a law that is universalized without contradicting itself.

1. “I say that humanity, and in general every rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will.”

2. For Kant, failure to treat other persons as an end in themselves is also a failure to treat ourselves as an end, since we would be refusing our own higher rational nature in relating to them and thus acting according to lower animal instincts.

b. This second formulation of the imperative also rules out the very idea of any mutual agreement in which two persons agree to treat each other as mere means to their own ulterior ends of pleasure or pain—especially in a demeaning way—since such an agreement could not be rationally universalized in the sense of treating each other as ends in themselves.

i. In other words, for Kant it is universally right that we should never consent to our own degradation nor accept that anyone else should, since to do so would be to treat oneself and others as mere objects.

1. Kant would then say that you can never eat the cabin boy nor let yourself or someone else become enslaved, even if they consented to it.

2. Therefore, Kant does not superficially respect freedom of choice in itself, since morality is about choosing the right end in accordance with autonomy.

– We should never respect any choice that contradicts one’s own capacity for autonomous willing.

ii. Utilitarians however have no way of arguing against any individuals who consent to be treated as a degraded object if this is what they happen to find most pleasing, however distorted.

3. Kant understands that most of our lives will be spent socially, politically, and economically calculating relative interests and values; but instead of subordinating morality to this instrumental calculus (like utilitarianism) he thinks the ultimate ideal of moral reason is the
“kingdom of ends”:

a. This ideal requires us to act from the pure reason of the categorical imperative whenever there is a conflict of interest in our day-to-day calculating activities.

The fundamental moral question to ask in any situation of conflicting interests is then not, how should we treat others in a way that might maximize utility, or how might we respect their choice no matter what, but rather how should we treat them as ends in themselves,
rational beings worthy of dignity –

unlike questions of utility, for Kant this is the moral question that is universally applicable in any circumstance

But a key issue in Kant’s deontology is its abstractness and detachment from concrete life: it does not concern itself with everyday pursuits of happiness and the development of our whole being, but is only pertinent occasionally when conflicts of interest arise within the socioeconomic sphere.
Hence it still presupposes that we are all passive selfish consumers, yet with an extra rational capacity to respect one another out of principle.
Can the kingdom of ends be anything other than an abstract idea of formal respect?

Summary of Kant’s overall logic:

1. We all have a free will by virtue of being rational beings

2. To act according to a free will is to willingly act for its own sake—that is, to choose to act for the sake of your own self-determination and not for some other end.

3. To willingly take up ordinary activities like deciding to go grocery shopping, or to eat something, or watch a movie, are forms of acting not for their own sake but for the sake of something else. If one meets conflicts of interest with others amongst these everyday pursuits by deciding to willingly steal or lie or harm others this is always wrong because it fails to rise above lower impulses and act according to our higher reasoning.

4. But willing to respect unconditionally or tell the truth unconditionally is to freely respect for its own sake or to tell the truth for its own sake—you are willing to do something for the
sole reason of your own pure willing to do so, and not because someone or something else compels you

5. A free will therefore acts out of pure motives (duty for duty’s sake) and not ulterior motives—this is why Kant’s moral law is concerned only with the purity of your intentions and not with the outcomes of whether it brings pleasure or happiness, etc.

6. The “categorical imperative” is the moral law of a free will acting true to its own reasoning: act in such a way that universally all others could (and should) do the same.

7. Moreover, because everyone equally has the rational capacities for a free will, they must be treated as
dignified ends in themselves, just as we treat our own will as an end in itself (always respect others for their own sake—this is another version of the categorical imperative).

8. This is why Kant speaks of the highest ideal being a “Kingdom of Ends” – a community in which no one is degraded as a mere means to someone else’s ends (you’re not batteries for someone else’s machine!). 

The presuppositions: we are inherently rational, and we are only free when we act in accordance with our self-legislating rationality, which means working toward the ideal of a “kingdom of ends”.

For Kant then you are only free when you treat all others as equally free, which means under no circumstances can a human life be treated as anything other than an end in itself.

· This returns us in some ways to Aristotle’s notion of humanity as inherently rational and social, working toward a community of friendship, determined for its own sake, and not as a means to biological needs, commercialism, or military alliances.

· Although there are some important differences: While Kant believes we are inherently rational, he does not believe we are inherently social, which means he has a hard time figuring out those social practices necessary for becoming more rational and
concretely building a “kingdom of ends”. Instead we remain
abstractly rational without an ability to socially cultivate such.

· Feminist philosophers, among others, will criticize Kant’s framework for failing to recognize our inherently social and embodied nature. Because his abstract reason is divorced from our concrete labors it has a difficult time addressing the real needs for realizing our socially creative bodies in an ethically meaningful way.





Utilitarianism, part II

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)

I. Historical Background

a. His father James Mill was a well-known intellectual and great friend of Jeremy Bentham. He had John Stuart homeschooled by Bentham.

b. Mill wrote during the mid 19th century when industrial capitalism was beginning to show its truly abhorrent nature. He recognized the inadequacy of Bentham’s theory for dealing with many of these new social issues.

i. Mill advocated for the improvement of working class conditions, and was also the first Member of Parliament to advocate for women’s suffrage.

II. A summary of the text

: Chapter 1

a. Mill begins the text by noting that philosophers and societies in general throughout history have often lacked any consensus as to the foundation of morality.

i. He notes that there is a general agreement that morality must be deduced from principles even though there is confusion as to what that principle is.

ii. He believes that since almost everyone admits that human happiness is a prime consideration in moral discourse then the greatest happiness should be recognized as the fundamental principle.

iii. The rest of his text seeks to spell out utilitarianism and the rational grounds for accepting it.

III. Chapter 2: What is Utilitarianism?

a. “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

i. The “theory of life” upon which this moral theory is grounded states “that pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends”.

b. But Mill then asks, supposing human life has no greater end than self-seeking pleasure (defined in Bentham’s reductive terms), how is this not a “doctrine worthy only of swine?”

i. Mill argues that the source of pleasure for human life is different from other forms of animal life—
unlike Bentham, the different sources and forms of pleasure matter! But what is the basis for this assertion?

1. “Human beings have faculties

more elevated
than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness

which does not include
their gratification.”
(he’s already drifting closer to Aristotle!

2. These elevated capacities are the reason why humans desire more than “those of mere sensation” and assign a much higher value to:

“pleasures of the intellect,”

“of the feelings of the imagination,”

“and of the moral sentiments” (fellow feeling or social sympathy)

3. Therefore, Mill states that it would be absurd to reduce all pleasures to a homogenized standard of quantifiable sensation alone (as Bentham did), rather than estimating their value in nuanced terms of whether they satisfy

as well.


“it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”


ii. How are we to decide between lower and higher pleasures? After appealing to the need for developing our elevated faculties, Mill now (oddly) appeals to nothing more than the experience of those who are familiar with both kinds of pleasures (yet so far the assumptions in his work suggests more than this):

1. Mill argues that most people who have experienced higher and lower pleasures are willing to hold out for the higher over the lower and that this is proof that the higher are more pleasurable in a qualitatively distinct sense.

a. But already there is a tension within his reasoning:

i. Either higher pleasures are better because they are true to, and help activate, those
objectively higher
human potentials—that is, because they meet the needs of our “


social, imaginative, and intellectual capacities”.

ii. Or, higher pleasures are better, not because they are true to inherent potentials/capacities that make us distinctively human, but just because people who experienced them subjectively report that they are more pleasurable
(because experienced consumers just happen to prefer them, that’s why).

b. With the second criterion, it becomes difficult to answer the question as to how we recognize
truly higher pleasures (especially when there may not be much of an experience of them yet)? It would seem that we have to wait on a majority poll, and so follow the herd.

i. Do we recognize them as higher because it appears that most people happen to prefer them? Or do we recognize something as a higher quality and preferable because it accords with a higher potential in human nature regardless of whether the majority of society currently recognize it?

ii. Could utilitarianism make sense of the desirability of MLK’s vision, his appeal to higher forms of social solidarity, even though such was not yet fully experienced or commonly desired within a segregated society?

1. Was MLK’s vision compelling because most people just so happened to desire it? Or was it compelling because it awakened us to higher potentials regardless of whether they were widely desired yet?

iii. When Mill endorses higher pleasures by appeal to the need to develop humanity’s more “

” social, imaginative and intellectual

, he begins to leave utilitarianism behind:

1. This is because happiness is now determined as to whether it truly
fulfills by actualizing those higher potentials in our human nature that remain normative regardless of whether they happen to be valued by a current majority.

IV. Chapter 3: What is the ultimate sanction for the Principle of Utility?

a. What are the sources of obligation? Why should we follow moral principles?

i. Some do it for receiving the approval of others or of God: a system of rewards and punishments that Mill calls “external sanctions” (Aristotle – “external ends”).

ii. Others do it according to an inner sense of conscience (without an external authority) that incurs a painful feeling if they violate it. This Mill calls the “internal sanction” of subjective feelings within the conscience.

1. If there is no natural basis for morality then it is not worth paying attention to it.

iii. But moral feelings for Mill are not simply an innate sense of pure duty (like Kant thinks) but rather they are the natural

of our nature, which he believes is inherently
social and thus can be influenced in many different ways.

1. The basis in our nature is a natural inclination toward treating others as equal, which he calls a “contagion of sympathy”.

2. This natural social sympathy that humans have for each other, however, only can grow so long as there is an “improving state of the human mind”

a. – hence the objective need for

educating desire
, otherwise we will remain easily habituated into the market’s self-centered antagonism and divisiveness,
unable to identify with the feelings of other people while blindly consuming what the market determines for us.

b. “a person in whom the social feeling is at all

, cannot bring himself to think of the rest of his fellow creatures as struggling rivals with him for the means of happiness, whom he must desire to see defeated in their object in order that he may succeed in his.”
(again, he is sounding more and more like a virtue theorist)

3. Here we see Mill providing more nuance than Bentham, who couldn’t really account for why exclusively self-seeking individuals would want to consider also the greater good of the social whole:

a. We saw earlier that Bentham was content with the status quo and thought the private pursuit of money was a primary good—indeed an end in itself—for individualistically attaining more pleasure and less pain.

b. Mill, however, sees that humans naturally desire social relations around

communal ends rather than around mere commerce (he says the pursuit of money can “render the individual noxious to the other members of the society”).

i. And he even sees that the belief that money and the market can flatly determine all values is ruinous to democracy.

ii. General happiness

by way of developing our elevated social capacities
seems to require a higher form of democratic society rooted in the
very social means of creating surplus.

V. Hence we come to his later writings on
The Principles of Political Economy (ca. 1848) where he argues for an economy based in the “cooperative principle”:

“The form of association, however,
which if mankind continue to
, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief, and work-people without a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality,
collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves.”

“the healing of the standing feud between capital and labour; the transformation of human life, from a conflict of classes struggling for opposite interests, to a friendly rivalry in the pursuit of a good common to all; the elevation of the dignity of labour; a new sense of security and independence in the labouring class; and

the conversion of each human being’s daily occupation into a school of the social sympathies and the practical intelligence

“Eventually, and in perhaps a less remote future than may be supposed, we may, through the
cooperative principle, see our way to a change in society, which would combine the freedom and independence of the individual, with the moral, intellectual, and economical advantages of aggregate production; and which … would realize, at least in the industrial department, the best aspirations of the
democratic spirit.”

Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, bk. IV, ch. 7.

a. Therefore, the more Mill implies a virtue paradigm beyond Bentham’s crude utilitarianism the more he pushes the economy and its business structures in the direction of

cooperatives—a return of the means of production to collective ownership

i. Or we could also say that the more Mill advocates for cooperative social production, the more he implies the higher qualities of virtue ethics beyond Bentham’s reductive utilitarianism.

ii. This is because he begins to see, like Aristotle, that the organization of economic activity around private profit exploits and deforms our inherently social and creative nature—our elevated capacities—within an undemocratic labor process.

b. The sanction for the principle of utility then seems to come from outside Bentham’s reductive utilitarian framework itself. Mill’s presupposed framework so far:

i. All subjectively experienced pleasures are not equal

ii. Some are higher not just quantitatively but qualitatively, and ought to be pursued

iii. This is not simply because certain people happen to
subjectively report that they are higher (despite Mill’s own claims), but rather because they are truer to those normatively

capacities that
objectively define
human nature beyond base instincts or mindless habituation, and which ought to be developed in order to progress and flourish socially as



1. Mill then has a normative sense of what it means to be human that moves critically beyond the consumerist dictates of market society.

iv. Hence, in another work Mill proclaims: “I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions;

but it must be utility in the largest sense,
grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.”

and also “the end of man … is the highest and most harmonious
development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole.”

On Liberty


This framework—grounded normatively on the permanent interest of humanity as a progressive being—would allow ethics to be a
transformative force: it would be able to critically distinguish between real desires and needs and perceived or illusory desires/needs, humanizing experiences and dehumanizing ones in light of higher ends, which Bentham wasn’t able to do.

a. But it would also challenge the principle of utility at its core:

i. Happiness would no longer be equated with mere subjective pleasures of the appetites alone but more in line with virtue theory as the fullest realization of our distinctive powers.

ii. This would also challenge majority rules and consumerist society, since the basis for pursuing higher pleasures is rooted in whether it is true to our objectively elevated potentials and not whether most people happen to like something at a given time (the herd can be wrong!).

1. This does not mean it goes against democratic processes but rather provides the more consistent basis of our social nature driving the democratic process—that which must then be worked out collectively.






5/4/22, 12:47 AM Week 5 Overview – Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 1/2

Week 5 Overview – Deontology

Last week in studying utilitarianism we saw that Mill challenged Bentham’s relativism
and reductionism, bringing forth instead a more progressive kernel by showing that
there needs to be a robust normative sense of human nature: a sense of our common
humanity according to qualitatively distinct faculties or capabilities that are not
reducible simplistically to animal appetites or monetary values. Without any higher
notion of who we are and what we are socially and creatively capable of, modern
society is left to the cost-benefit calculations of the market, which means human life
itself is left to being quantifiably measured according to its market value, and therefore
disposable. Thus, whereas Bentham’s utilitarianism lacked the ability to uphold the
inherent worth of individuals and especially minorities, Mill suggested a way beyond
Bentham that seemed to overlap also with virtue ethics. This week we will see another
philosopher–Immanuel Kant–try to affirm and uphold the intrinsic value of human life,
especially each individual regardless of majority rules and market values. Yet Kant
provides us with a somewhat opposing view to utilitarianism and virtue ethics. Unlike
the previous two ethical frameworks Kant’s ethical framework of deontology is in no
way oriented to happiness but rather to a principled sense of duty for its own sake. In
our modern capitalist society deontology has become an important theory for
elaborating a universal duty to affirm the inherent worth, and thus “rights”, of each
individual against market utility–the rights of each individual are to be respected
regardless of whether or not this brings happiness to anyone. But this week we will

5/4/22, 12:47 AM Week 5 Overview – Deontology: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 2/2

wrestle with how this cherished notion of “rights” and the duty to respect such should
be theoretically formulated as well as practically applied. What is it about our human
nature for Kant that demands such rights to be respected for their own sake, and how
should we best uphold them? We will especially focus on whether deontology can offer
a robust guide for practice that not only protects individual rights but also positively
empowers people and transforms society for mutual flourishing. A big question we will
want to ask: it is one thing to affirm universal rights in theory, but can we uphold them
in practice without actually cultivating higher qualities through virtuous practices … and
thus can rights be practically upheld without any overarching orientation to happiness?

To read or watch:
Review the materials on the Launchpad page Introduction to Kant’s Deontology
kants-deontology) , which includes my video and lecture notes
Read Sandel, What’s the Right Thing, ch. 5
Read Kant in the Justice Reader, pp. 161-167 (sections 7–14), p. 176 (section 25),
pp. 178-185 (sections 29–37)

To complete or submit:
Complete the Reading Assignment Questions
( , which is
due by Saturday at midnight.
Answer the Case Discussion Questions
regarding the youtube video about never lying, which is located on the discussion
page. Your initial post is due by Wednesday and subsequent posts by Sunday.


Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to, as well as determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne.” (9)

I. What is happiness?

a. Immediate sensory pleasure and avoidance of pain: “By the natural constitution of the human frame, on most occasions of their lives men in general embrace this principle, without thinking of it.” (11)

i. Bentham identifies happiness with whatever is pleasurable and not painful—it has to do with matters of physical sensation and nothing higher.

1. We are nothing other than our sensible appetites—obeying the force of sense impressions given by our sovereign masters of pleasure and pain—without a higher rational or social nature (as in Aristotle)

ii. It is something we immediately pursue without always thinking about it. He has no concern for determining the actual sources of pleasure (whether you get it from eating a corndog, folding socks, or reading a book).


1. All pleasures are of the same quality with no higher qualitative forms but only quantitative distinctions between them.

a. Are there really no pleasures that are qualitatively better or higher than others? Are there no inherent objective qualities to human nature which require higher qualitative forms of satisfaction?

iii. Happiness then pertains to psychological experiences of sensory feelings and not self-realization through holistic development.

1. Bentham’s morality can be understood as founded on psychological egoism – we are motivated only by the desire to maximize our own private self-interest, to acquire individualistic pleasure without limit.

2. Yet Bentham also thinks that we should act in such a way that will maximize the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people (within the interested party).

But what motivates the private egoist to consider the
greatest happiness of the community in general?
(More on this below)

iv. Because no particular pleasure is qualitatively better than any other, they must be continually weighed as to their comparative quantitative value within any given situation.

II. Determining what we ought to do: ethics is about calculating what actions will give us the most of what we currently happen to find pleasing.

a. But how do we account for the right activities to pursue in any given situation, especially when interests conflict?

i. Pull out a balance sheet and a calculator and get ready for some double-entry bookkeeping:

ii. The principle of utility concerns the utility of any activity in contributing to the sum total of happiness gained or the sum total of pains diminished.

iii. The six criteria – notice that they are all quantitative categories for measuring the force of sensations:

1. Intensity: how strong is the pleasurable sensation?

2. Duration: how long does it last?

3. Certainty or uncertainty: how likely will that pleasure occur?

4. Propinquity or remoteness: How soon will that pleasure occur?

5. Fecundity: How probable is it that sensations of the same kind will follow?

6. Purity: How probable is it that the sensation will not be followed by its opposite kind?

b. The calculus and its balance sheet

i. Adding up the sum total:

1. Calculating which action will produce the greatest happiness involves adding up not only the total pleasures but also the total pains and then subtracting the latter from the former—it is determined according to the greatest difference or net worth and not the highest sum: comparing two acts X and Y:

a. Act X: 10 pleasures – 5 pains = 5

b. Act Y: 20 pleasures – 16 pains = 4

i. We ought to do Act X because 5 > 4.

ii. If two acts produce no pleasure, then it is about doing the one with lesser pain

Can pleasure/happiness really be quantified in this way?

c. Since utilitarians realize that there is not always time to calculate in every moment of ethical decision they concede that there are some general rules of thumb to follow in most situations, like:

· It is good to
almost always tell the truth.

d. Yet, despite following general rules of thumb, utilitarianism is concerned solely with the consequences of actions, regardless of the means and motives by which those actions are carried out and ends achieved:

i. actions do not always produce the same results in every situation—e.g. telling the truth might cause greater displeasure in certain situations and so it need not always be considered as a means to happiness (even though it might be best to normally follow the rule of truthfulness in most situations).

e. Where might this new mindset come from? (that pleasures can be reductively homogenized and quantified and that their maximization justifies whatever means used)

i. It wasn’t that Bentham wanted a non-judgmental account of pleasure-seeking, but rather that he wanted to homogenize pleasures under a single measure and its one sovereign absolute judge. Who/what might this judge be? He gives us more than a hint:

Money is the instrument of measuring the quantity of pain or pleasure. Those who are not satisfied with the accuracy of this instrument must find out some other that shall be more accurate, or bid adieu to politics and morals.”

Economic Writings

ii. For Bentham accumulating more money means more pleasures can be afforded and more pains avoided. (As we already discussed, the pursuit of money itself does not necessarily require practicing virtuous means such as honesty, fairness, goodness, etc.)

1. But then money itself becomes the highest utility, the end of economic activity

iii. Bentham’s assumption about society is that it is made up of individuals whose end is not community for its own sake, but rather the accumulation of private monetary wealth.

a. This should give us a hint as to why utilitarianism arose and became so popular at the time that it did—19th century England, one of the major birthplaces of modern capitalism.

The Social Context: What is community and the notion of the human being presupposed here?

a. Society is not a greater whole, but just a sum of individualistic parts

“The community is a
body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its
members. The interest of the community then is, what?—the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.” (10)

b. His psychological egoism presupposes society as made up of atomistic individualism and mechanistic materialism (all have a precursor in Thomas Hobbes ca.1588–1679)

i. Atomistic individualism denies that we are inherently relational and cooperative, and so denies that society has emergent properties whereby the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts like a symphony.

1. Rather society is nothing other than the aggregate of individuals, externally related like random atoms or billiard balls colliding with each other as they pursue their own self-interest and fight over scarce resources.

2. Within a society organized exclusively for commercial interests of money-making (rather than vice versa) humanity begins to lose sight of its social nature and views itself, from the marketplace perspective, as a random collection of competing private entrepreneurs/consumers.

c. Here we see the shift of social relations no longer around C-M-C whereby economic activity serves the needs of building community, but instead inverted around M-C-M’ where our social nature and community building become means for the private ends of monetary accumulation.

Hence, social relations are not viewed as ends in themselves, but something to be exploited for private self-interest. Echoing Bentham’s utilitarian view of human nature, James Mill (John Stuart Mill’s father) says:

“That one human being will desire to render the person and property of another subservient to his pleasures …
is a grand governing law of human nature … the grand
instrument for attaining what a man likes is the actions of other men.”

James Mill,
Government, section IV

Notice that in attaining pleasure one essentially encounters other humans as
instruments, seeking to
objectify their activity as an instrumental means to private profit.

1. Society and politics are then not a greater form of organization that emerges with the potential for fostering higher social relations and qualities that perfect our social nature—

2. Rather society and its politics for Bentham are just a fiction, i.e. a contractual artifice, for facilitating and regulating competitive individualism and its
objectifying pursuit of private profit and private property.

a. Without a higher end or common good there is no real educative function in society and its politics (beyond STEM) whereby humanity might be raised beyond its animal instincts.

i. Politics is instead reduced to regulating our animal instincts by calculating the cost-benefit of total pleasure and pains as if calculating and balancing the numerical quantity of competing forces.

b. But is human nature unchangeably selfish and individualistic? Or have we become habituated to practice and believe such by the spectacle of our market reality?

i. Is it fair to make such a sweeping claim about human nature when many non-Western societies display social qualities and community building that does not foster such private individualism?

c. Is society just an aggregate of externally related individuals? Or is it a common project, with higher potentials, in which we are all integrally related, even if we don’t currently recognize such?

d. Similarly, aren’t we naturally social beings, whose social qualities give rise to society in the first place, before we become isolated individuals? How could we as a species evolve and develop higher forms of civilization if the latter?

d. Atomistic individualism and its psychological egoism bring some further internal problems for utilitarianism itself:

i. The assumption that humans are not intrinsically social and rational, thus not drawn toward the distinctively human life of a political animal suggests that society is the unintended consequence of
non-social individuals solely pursuing their own private self-interests.

1. Why then should individuals care about the whole society?

a. If we are private egoists concerned only with our own individualistic pleasure, why care about the greater good of general utility, especially if one’s private pleasure doesn’t seem to be necessarily painful to the whole, and vice versa?

2. Also, why would the dominant majority of individuals care about a lone individual or minority group?

a. If we do consider the greater good of the whole in terms of the greatest quantifiable amount of happiness for the greatest number, and this whole is represented only in the quantitative terms of a voting majority, then why would they care about the claims of a minority group?

3. And if society is the unintended consequence of private self-interest amongst competing individuals who presumably do not consciously intend the greatest good in their individual acts, then who does the calculating for the
greater good of the whole? A few government bureaucrats? Technocratic elites? The hidden hand of the market?

Notice that if citizens are only privately concerned with individualistic consumption, then politics and governance are not something they are naturally inclined toward (
hence the rejection of Aristotle’s political animal—
but then how are we distinguished from mere cattle?
). Bentham then has a hard time accounting for why someone would want to enter public administration and concern themselves with the general utility of all – moreover, government then seems to become only the matter of an elite bureaucratic managerial class that can coldly and efficiently calculate all the private interests.

Or, like Adam Smith and other contemporaries, many will try to justify laissez faire capitalism in which government facilitates some kind of
“hidden hand” of the market that somehow brings about unintended good for all by magically converting “private vices into public benefits” (Bernard Mandeville)—or, in other words, let the rules of the game rigged by the rich keep benefitting the rich

4. This then brings us to the question of whether utilitarianism is really as non-judgmental as it often claims – remember that Bentham wanted to
prejudge every pleasure as equal in solely quantitative terms so that they could be subject to the marketplace and its one sovereign absolute judge: money.

a. But is there really no other normative conception for what it means to be human other than the pursuit of private profit? Why must we uncritically accept this latter conception as the only normative form? (isn’t it a recipe for mindless consumerism and oligarchy rather than robust democratic participation?)

Summary of distinction with Virtue ethics: If the basic ethical framework for Aristotle’s virtue theory is a developmental movement, transforming our first nature into human nature as it could be if it realized its most distinctive capacities, then for Bentham it is simply a static framework as the regulation of brute nature in itself without transformation, since he believes there are no higher creative potentials to develop but only money to acquire for facilitating consumption — therefore he cannot say that some pleasurable experiences are truer to human nature because he cannot show how some pleasures rather than others might contribute to, or reveal, or occasion higher qualities. This also means he has no critical way of identifying
dehumanization, alienation, and oppression since there is no distinctive human nature from which we could be alienated.

5. John Stuart Mill will try to rectify these problems in Bentham by elaborating a more sophisticated concept of utilitarianism oriented around a notion of humanity that better captures something of our higher qualities and social nature.












5/4/22, 1:01 AM Week 4 Overview – Utilitarianism: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 1/3

Week 4 Overview – Utilitarianism

We are now in the modern world and we
find a different moral logic at work, one
that does not refer to higher qualities or
capacities intrinsic to our nature, but
rather one that accepts humans as
nothing other than consuming animals.
Within our modern capitalist society
value is understood not as born out of
our socially creative capacities to meet
real human needs but rather as arising
from market demands seemingly determined by subjective consumer preferences.
Jeremy Bentham founded the ethical theory of Utilitarianism—building largely on
Thomas Hobbes’s mechanized worldview that reduces humans to machines—in order
to accommodate this new reality in which the market no longer serves the social needs
of community-building, but rather society serves the ends of monetary market
exchange and private profit. Hence, Bentham’s framework is called “utilitarian”
because it views anything and everything as quantitatively priced and potentially
utilized for the sake of arbitrary private pleasures. For Bentham happiness is nothing
other than the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain, which he believed could
be simply calculated.

Bentham is credited with at least trying to come up with an objective criterion that
everyone within a market society could use to assess the pursuit of happiness. What
will be important to see, however, is how Bentham’s uncritical acceptance of the
monetary market and its consumerism leaves him unable to ask whether what we just
so happen to want, whether what the market just so happens to demand at any given
point in time, is actually good for us according to any standards that might transcend
the marketplace and its calculations (remember Nussbaum’s criticisms of the
preference based approach?). If ethics began as a discourse about that common good
beyond commercialism by which we are able to realize our most distinctive capacities
for enabling full human flourishing, then with Bentham’s utilitarianism we find an

5/4/22, 1:01 AM Week 4 Overview – Utilitarianism: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 2/3

inability to rise up to the critical task of ethics. It is instead John Stuart Mill who will
provide an important corrective to utilitarianism, nuancing and supplementing it with a
higher view of our distinctive human qualities whose fulfillment should be the criterion
of happiness. In doing so he began to fundamentally challenge the market ordering of
our social relations around the exclusive ends of private profit and subjective
consumption. But in doing so, does he begin to leave the framework of utilitarianism
and veer closer to virtue ethics?

To read:
Review the materials on the Launchpad page Introduction to Utilitarianism
utilitarianism) , which includes my video and lecture notes
Read Sandel, What’s the Right Thing to Do, chapter 2
Read the Lecture notes on Bentham

download_frd=1) and on Mill

download_frd=1) , as well as the summarizing notes comparing and contrasting
virtue ethics and utilitarianism

download_frd=1) .
Read Bentham in Justice Reader, pp. 9–14
Read Mill in Justice Reader, pp. 14–31
Read Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Book IV, ch. VII, sections 4–7

download_frd=1) (pp. 196–204).

To complete or submit:

5/4/22, 1:01 AM Week 4 Overview – Utilitarianism: UCOR 2910 02 22SQ Ethical Reasoning in Business 3/3

Complete the Reading Assignment Questions
( assignment,
which is due by Saturday at midnight
Answer the Case Discussion Questions
regarding the Matrix videoclip which is located on the discussion page. Your initial
post is due by Wednesday and 2 subsequent posts by Sunday. Please review the
Class Participation and Discussion
discussion) page for discussion expectations.

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