john stuart mill offers near W r i t i n g

john stuart mill offers near W r i t i n g


Background Context for Your Essay

In many ways, the Utilitarian theory of morality seems quite intuitive: of course morally good actions are those that aim to promote others’ welfare and prevent their harm! But Utilitarianism claims that this is all there is to morality. And this is less intuitive. Consider the definition of moral right and wrong that John Stuart Mill offers near the beginning of our reading: Utilitarianism holds that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (p. 790). This definition implies that if I want to know for sure which action is morally right in a given situation, I would have to (1) predict all the benefits and all the harms that would be caused by each possible action I could take, then (2) rank all the options I have in terms of their balance of future benefits and harms and, finally, (3) choose the action that ranks the highest. Perhaps we sometimes reason this way when faced with a difficult choice. But our moral thinking and reasoning do not, in general, take the form of such a calculation.

In our reading, Mill considers and responds to an objection along these lines. Mill states the objection this way: “there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness” (p. 797). (It is obviously important to see that this is not Mill’s own assessment of the matter but rather his statement of a possible objection that he will go on to try to refute.)

Your Essay

Your task in this essay is to explain and evaluate both this objection and Mill’s response to it on behalf of Utilitarianism. In your essay you will:

  1. Summarize for your audience Mill’s version of the Utilitarian account of moral rightness and wrongness.
  2. Explain to your audience why this account gives rise to the objection about the lack of time to calculate.
  3. Reconstruct, in your own words, Mill’s response to this objection. Here is it essential that you mention:
    1. Mill’s distinction between the “first” or “primary” or “fundamental” principle of morality (namely the principle quoted above from p. 790) and the various “rules of morality” or the “secondary” or “subordinate” principles that figure in most of our moral deliberations. What are some examples of such secondary principles?
    2. Mill’s account of the justification for following these “secondary principles.” Why does Mill think that these principles are justified according to the Utilitarian standard of morality?
    3. Mill’s account of how these secondary principles are not infallible but rather “improvable” (capable of being improved).
    4. How the account of the role these “rules of morality” or secondary principles play in moral thinking and deliberation serves as a response to the objection about the lack of time to calculate.
  4. Briefly evaluate Mill’s response to the objection by considering whether Mill has presented a plausible account of moral thinking and deliberation.

Preparing to write your Essay:

Before you start writing your essay, you should re-read the selections from Utilitarianism in our textbook.

Essential Elements of Your Essay

Length. Your essay should be 950-1300 words. Remember that reaching the lower word limit is very far from ensuring that you have adequately addressed all the parts of the paper topic.

Format. Make sure that you include your name and other information about the assignment on the top left of the first page. Do not make a separate cover page. Number your pages and use normal-sized font and margins.

Your own words vs. quotations. Your task is to explain everything in a way that your audience can understand. You therefore should put everything in your own words as much as possible. (This also shows your professor that you know what you are talking about.) However, it is also essential show your audience that you are explaining the Mill’s view. Therefore, you must, where appropriate, cite and quote from the text. For the purposes of the essay, you should have at least three quotes of approximately sentence length from the text. These should be carefully chosen. They should be quotes that illuminate a central point. You can have more that three quotes if you like, but be careful: you cannot use quotes from the text as a substitute for your own writing. Usually, if you have a quote, you will also have to explain to your audience what the quote means. Again, the main point is simply this: you must write everything in your own words but also show that you are accurately explaining what is in the text, and so you must also quote and cite from the text.

Title. Your essay should have short title that succinctly tells the audience the topic of your essay.

Introductory paragraph. Your essay should start with a short paragraph that summarizes the topic and results of your essay. Do not waste time talking in generalities about what philosophers have thought since the dawn of time. Instead, give your audience the overview of your essay that they need to be in the best position to understand the body of your essay as they read through it.

Body of essay. Make sure you adequately address all the elements required the instructions above.

Conclusion. You do not need to write a paragraph summarizing your conclusions. That is important in a longer essay that includes complex argumentation that is hard for the audience to keep track of. But it is not needed here.


This advice is the same as for the first paper, but it is important: remember to think about your audience. Yes, your professor will be reading and grading your essay. But you should think of your audience as a fellow student: your audience needs a patient and careful account of the issues and text or texts you are discussing; your audience may have read the text, but they need your help to understand it; your audience also needs to be told what unfamiliar philosophical vocabulary means. Writing with this audience in mind will help you to write clearly and precisely and with a minimum of unstated assumptions. If your audience cannot follow your essay, then your are not writing an essay that is clear enough. Only if you are able to guide your audience through the texts have shown your professor that you have understood them.

Citing Outside Sources

For this essay, you should use only the textbook and the video lectures as sources. You can use my lectures as you wish, but you cannot repeat any part of them word for word (unless, of course you use quotation marks and cite). There is no reason to look to any outside sources. However, I’d much prefer for you to use a properly cited outside source, although I discourage it, than for you to use an outside source and then try to hide the fact that you’ve used it because I’ve asked you not to use outside sources. That is why I will not penalize you for using properly cited outside sources.

The main thing is that, if you do use any outside sources, you acknowledge that and how you have used the source. Failure to do so is plagiarism. The easiest way to avoid plagiarism on this assignment is not to look at any sources other than my lectures and the textbook.

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