Making Ethical Choices: Mill vs. Bentham

Gerald Wahr should accept the employment opportunity with Pro-Growth Pesticides despite of his opposition to usage of pesticides. As it is clear from the case, the only way to help his family is to find a job and the interview period has already passed. Of course, it would be impossible to avoid moral dilemma, however, it is possible to minimize the pressure. One of the possible solutions is to preserve the attitude towards pesticides while working on the father’s farm. The belief that pesticides harm environment and farm products in particular can be the deciding factor for Gerald, however, by accepting the job opportunity, he is not forced to change his belief. Mill would agree on the issue and support the decision of Gerald to accept opportunity at Pro-Growth. According to the theory of Mill, the promotion of the good is the only criterion of moral rightness. If Gerald accepts the job offer, he is empowered to help his family. However, Bentham would advise to reject the job offer because according to his theory, the only good is happiness, and happiness is pleasure. Thus, if Gerald accepts the job offer, he will be happy only partially (ability to help his family), and he will be unhappy because of being forced to work with pesticides he views as harmful.

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Theory of Mill

Thus, Mill would strongly recommend Gerald to think about the final result of his choice. The decision to accept the job offer would increase the final utility for the whole family. As he noted, “the actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness” (West, p. 33). Mill strongly rejected the rational intuitionism in ethics and promoted the assumption that every individual has the right to create his own moral principles and values. Thus, Gerald has to think about himself as well as about his family. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding the attitude of his family towards this employment opportunity, thus it is hard to say whether they have influence over his decision or not. It is evident that Gerald is concerned with the wellbeing of his family, thus, he should accept the job offer to ensure their happiness.

Mill argued that all actions should be judged in terms of the results (Lyons, p. 65). If Gerald rejects the job offer, his decision will bring any good neither to him nor to his family. The so-called moral intuition should be used to reveal ends that are superior to moral pleasure and self-interests (Lyons, p.66). In other words, Mill would support the decision of Gerald to accept the job offer despite of his personal beliefs on company products because, in the given situation, his personal interests are of minor importance. Mill argued that most of the choices made by people are morally demanded by their intuitions. At the same time, he noted that people tend to think better about their actions than about actions of others. Most of human choices are led by the desire to achieve pleasure, while, from Mill’s standpoint, pleasure is the end of morality. In other words, Gerald could reject the job opportunity for the sake of his own pleasure (he would not have to work for the company promoting products he viewed as harmful), however, his choice would not bring happiness beyond his own moral calmness.

Theory of Bentham

Bentham, similar to Mill, developed his own theory of Utility and promoted the belief that moral action is the one which produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people (Crimmins, p. 121). Returning to Gerald, Bentham would advise him to reject the job offer and search for a new opportunity. From Bentham’s standpoint, the decision to accept the job would not bring desired positive results to Gerald and his family. Moreover, the acceptance of this job offer would make the whole family unhappy. Gerald would have to do the job he does not like and promote the belief he totally rejected. Bentham, on the contrary to Mill, did not promote or protect Individual Rights and urged to take into account the needs and rights of other people while making any kind of decision. While both theories seem to be very similar in addressing the concept of Happiness, Mill viewed happiness in wider context and defined it as “good for all”. Bentham, on the other hand, agreed upon the need to take interests of other people into account while making the choice which suits the needs and moral values of decision maker in the first place.

Even though Bentham was a friend of Mill’s father, he did not support most of the ideas raised by John Mill. Both Mill and Bentham promoted Hedonism, however, they had an opposing views on it. For Bentham, quantity vs. quality problem was easily solvable – pleasure is pleasure and cannot be judged using quantity or quality aspects (Troyer, p. 33). Thus, the decision of Gerald to accept or reject the job offer should be judged from the standpoint of overall pleasure received by all people affected by his decision. Mill, on the contrary, promoted an opposing view that pleasure should be measured on terms of quality and different factors should be taken into account. In particular, Gerald has to decide whether his pleasure (happiness) is more important to him compared to the pleasure (happiness) of his family. Bentham viewed happiness very narrowly and defined it as overall condition common for all people. He failed to note that different people attribute different elements and events to Happiness.

What Gerald should do

Prior to making a decision, Gerald has to take into account several factors: the consequences of his decision to reject the job offer, the consequences of his decision to accept the job offer, the opportunity to find another job, and whether his beliefs regarding pesticides can impact his performance at Pro-Growth Pesticides. Currently, he is facing a moral dilemma and either of his decision will have both negative and positive consequences. If he decides to accept the job offer, he will be empowered to help his family financially; however, his father will not happy as well as Gerald’s beliefs will have to change. If he decides to reject the job offer, he will not have to change his beliefs and further promote organic farm products, however, he will not be able to help his parents.

If Gerald follows the theory of Mill, he should accept the job offer because Mill stresses the importance of overall good. Thus, Gerald has to put the interests of majority (his family) on the first place. If Gerald follows the theory of Bentham, he should reject the job offer because Bentham promotes the assumption that happiness cannot be judged in terms of quantity and quality. It is clear that neither Mill nor Bentham can offer a reasonable advice to Gerald. Despite of the choice he makes, there will be at least one negative outcome. If he accepts the job offer, he will not be happy and suffer emotionally for doing the job he does not like. If he rejects the job offer, he will not be happy as well and suffer even more for being unable to help his family.

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Solution

I believe that Gerald should accept the job offer because it is the only opportunity to help his family financially. Sure, he will not be able to build a career at Pro-Growth Pesticides because of his opposition to pesticide engineering, however, he will have a chance to find a new employment later, when the farm operations start running smoothly. Taking into account that his father opposes the use of pesticides, Gerald has to explain him that working at Pro-Growth Pesticides he does not have to use them in his own farm. In addition, he should separate work at the company and at the farm. Mill’s theory is more appropriate for Gerald in the current situation because his decision impacts not only his own life, but also the life of his family and farm operations. Even though Bentham promotes welfare for the greatest number of people, his theory cannot be applied by Gerald because he has to go against his beliefs to provide family support. Gerald cannot put his interests on the first place because his family is dependent upon his decision.

In conclusion, Gerald’s situation is not easy to solve because despite of the choice, the result will be in contradiction either to his or to his family moral values. Nevertheless, taking into account that his choice has direct impact on the wellbeing of his family, he has to place happiness of his family on the first place. Thus, the decision to accept the job offer is more reasonable from moral and ethical standpoints and would bring greater good for all people involved in the situation.

Works Cited

Crimmins, James. Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham. Clarendon Press, 1990.

Lyons, David. Rights, Welfare, and Mill’s Moral Theory. Oxford University Press, 1994.

Troyer, John. The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill. Hackett Publishing Company, 2003.

West, Henry. An Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Appendix

Self-Assessment Rubric/Ethics Papers

Name_____________________

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You will need to construct informed reactions to works in the humanities (C3, G6). To do this successfully you will need to fulfill all of the criteria listed below. This is intended as a guide for you to use when constructing your paper. Philosophy is about clearly articulating a position, or critiquing a preexisting position. Thus, you will need to:

  1. Explain how ethical choices are made (C2, G2). Part of this explanation should include an examination of the ethical issues from multiple perspectives (C3, G6, G9). At a bare minimum, this means that you need to be charitable in your interpretation of the author you’re talking about in the paper.
  2. Ethical choices are hard to make because an individual responsible for the choice has to take into account the consequences of the decision and impact on other people. Thus, the decision maker has to pay attention to his own moral values as well as values of other people. As Mill advised, the ethical choices should result in the happiness for all, or at least for majority. Bentham agreed with Mill only partially, however, he noted that happiness cannot be judged in terms of quality and quantity; thus, the personal interests should be of primary importance. The person should be governed by his own moral intuition.
  3. Critique the ethical theories presented (C3, G6, G9). What this entails is that you will:
  • Analyze the logical connections among the premises and conclusions of ethical arguments, and implications that follow from them (C2, C3, G2, G9) Theories of Mill and Bentham are closely related and both of the theorists have strived to provide practical and logical advices on how to make ethical choices. Mill explained his argument though drawing the logical connections between the premise (choice) and conclusion (happiness). He assumed that people should put their interests on the second place if other people are impacted by the decision. Bentham rejected the validity of Mill’s definition of happiness and proposed that happiness is the same for all and when one person is unhappy, people involved into the decision cannot be happy as well.
  • Identify the value assumptions made by people and how they affect our ethical decisions (C2, G2) Value assumptions are different for different people. Sure, there are universally accepted moral values and beliefs, however, every individual is free to make his own judgment and decision when moral dilemma is present. Value assumptions depend on culture, ethnic origin, personal beliefs, and beliefs of parents. Value assumption can change over lifespan because of the value shift. If 22-year-old student beliefs that higher salary is a good reason to change the job, a 45-year-old man might put more value on friendly working environment. The same relationship can be traced to other life situations.
  • Generate and formulate your own ethical beliefs (C3, G9). This must be in the form of an argument. I am not interested in your feelings on the subject; I am interested in why (via rational argument) you have those feelings. You can agree with an author, but, in that case, you will want to present additional reasons for why that author makes the most plausible case.

From the early childhood, I was taught by my parents that honesty is the main value. By honesty they meant not only telling the truth to others, but being honest to myself. One of my relatives has died in the car accident while saved the life of the child who was crossing the street. He had only few seconds to make an ethical choice: he could either ignore the situation (he did not even know who the child was) or save the child by risking his own life. He has made a second choice. He has become a role model for me to follow, a person whose ethical beliefs were so strong that he did not hesitate to give away his life for the sake of another person. I cannot say that I am ready to repeat his dead, and I am sure that the vast majority of people are not ready as well, however, all of us should strive to reach high moral and ethical values when the interests of other people are put on the first place.

The following is what I will look for when grading, so it would be prudent to answer the following questions:

Clarity of expression

  • Do you use technical terms without a legitimate purpose in doing so?
  • Are your sentences easy to understand?
  • Does your paper consist of grammatical sentences?
  • Are there many run-on sentences or sentence-fragments?
  • Are there spelling mistakes in your prose?

Rigor of Argumentation

  • Is your main line of argument discernable? Is the structure of your whole paper organized around the structure of your argument?
  • Do you restrict yourself to making only those comments that are relevant?
  • Do your ideas follow from one another? (Are the transitions well made?)
  • Do you appreciate the opposing point of view and treat it fairly?

Incorporation of textual material, where relevant

  • Do you incorporate enough of the material we have read?
  • Are there portions of what we have read, though relevant, you have overlooked?
  • Do you correctly interpret those passages that you cite?
  • Do you acknowledge any weaknesses of your interpretation?

Look over the assessment criteria again. Do you think you did exceptionally well on this assignment? If so, explain why that is the case. If not, explain that.

I think I did well on this assignment, not exceptionally well though. I have conducted a research, collected information on ethical theories of Mill and Bentham, tried to draw the connection between their theories and the given case, as well as provided a recommendation on how Gerald should act in respect to both theorists and my own ethical values. I tried to identify all consequences of his decision and their impact on the people involved in the case. I believe that the solution I reached is the most beneficial for all because it works for the good of the greatest number of people.

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Paraphrase the point you are trying to make and describe how you arrived at that conclusion.

The main point I strived to make in an essay is that interests of other people have to be taken into account when there is a need to make an ethical choice. Sure, it is not easy to shift personal interests on the second place, however, when wellbeing of other people is directly related to the choice, the person cannot avoid paying attention to their needs and expectations. I arrived at this conclusion through closer examination and comparison of Mill’s and Bentham’s theories.

Pick at least one area where you feel that you underperformed. Tell me how I can help you with this problem area. How do you plan to make it better?

The only area I had trouble with was Bentham’s theory. Most of the sources I identified make it clear that Mill and Bentham have opposing views, however, I have failed to find a clear distinction between their theories. Both of them talk about the same issue and reach approximately similar conclusions, however, they focus on different aspect of the same topic. I guess additional explanation of both theories would help me to navigate in moral ethics better. I plan to read more publications on both theorists and I am sure my knowledge will be enriched.

Did you (honestly) answer “no” to any of the questions above? How can I help with that? Do you feel like you covered all the criteria? Explain why, or why not.

I believe I have covered all criteria, even though there can be some concerns with incorporations of textual information. I strived to write an essay based on my vision of situation and supported it with evidence from theories of Mill and Bentham. However, the fact that my personal values coincide with the theory of Mill made it hard to me to distinguish between the theory of Mill and my own conclusions.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, September 3). Making Ethical Choices: Mill vs. Bentham. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/making-ethical-choices-mill-vs-bentham/

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