Human Rights

Dr Tom Kerns













Study Questions for

John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism



  1. Mill describes the fundamental concepts of utilitarianism in the first paragraph. What do you understand them to be?
  2. Mill outlines a criticism of utilitarianism in paragraph 2. Describe what that criticism is.
  3. In paragraph 3 Mill says something about some pleasures being “higher” than others. What do you understand him to be saying there about that idea?
  4. In paragraph 4 Mill outlines a test for determining which pleasures are considered “higher” than others. What is the test he proposes? (see also paragraph 9.)
  5. In paragraph 6, Mill says it is “better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” He says this in the context of his argument about higher and lower pleasures in paragraphs 5-9. What do you understand his argument about that to be?
  6. What do you understand the Greatest Happiness Principle to be (paragraph 11)?
  7. In most of the remaining paragraphs in this chapter Mill describes several objections to the Philosophy of Utilitarianism (“the doctrine of utility” he sometimes calls it), and answers each of them. Choose one of the objections he describes and answers, then

    a. Describe what the objection is;
    b. Describe what Mill’s answer is to that objection

  8. How would you summarize Mill’s Philosophy as expressed in this chapter of Utilitarianism?