Up ]



             What, in general, is utilitarianism?  Utilitarianism is an ethical theory (with classical antecedents) developed in the modern period by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-73) to promote fairness in British legislation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the interests of the upper classes tended to prevail and the sufferings of the lower classes were neglected.  Bentham and Mill extended consideration to all persons--indeed, to all sentient beings--potentially affected by a given action.  (A sentient being is one that can feel pleasure or pain.  Thus, at least in theory, animals are included in utilitarian concern.)  Bentham's motto was, "Each to count for one and none for more than one."  In other words, no one's happiness (whether the person is a "noble" or a "commoner") should counts for anything more than any other person's happiness.

            Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that calls for putting benevolence into action.  Utilitarianism is in a position to criticize harmful practices that have been regarded as "moral," rigid legalism of every sort, and theories that make morality depend upon religion.  It directs us to be concerned for the good of the whole, and to identify our own welfare with the good of the whole.  Utilitarianism encourages us to explore the full range of consequences of our actions and encourages us that the hard trade-offs between different kinds of value can be humanely achieved.

            The hope of utilitarianism has been to provide a scientific method of decision making.  One first calculates the expected consequences of alternative courses of action and choose the one with the highest net utility.  (Remember that calculation about what will maximize satisfaction for an individual or a company or nation is not utilitarian.)

            Distinguished contemporary utilitarians include R. M. Hare, Peter Singer, and James Rachels.  The present discussion focuses on Mill.





Why do we need an ethical theory?  Chapter I.  There is a need for a criterion of right and wrong, a first principle, to resolve conflicts in ethics.  [Clue:] "All action is for the sake of some end . . .  (Cf. A System of Logic by Mill, pp. 129-130 to clarify this point).  (Mill criticizes theories which abandon principle and rely on moral intuition [273.2; 141-42]). 


What is the basic theory of utilitarianism?  Chapter II.  What is utilitarianism?  ". . . actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness" (2).

            Happiness is a matter of pleasure and pain (2), including the higher pleasures of the mind as well as the lower pleasures of the body (3-8); it is "not a life of rapture, but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive," not expecting too much from life (12).  It involves some combination of tranquillity and excitement (13).

            Reforms can and eventually will bring about nearly universal happiness (14).

            As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator (18). 

            The golden rule--to do as one would be done by--expresses the spirit of the ethics of utility (18). 

            Laws and social arrangements should place the happiness of every individual in harmony with the interest of the whole, and education and opinion should establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole (18).

            Secondary rules (e.g., prohibiting violence, deception, etc.) though they admit of exceptions (which must be carefully limited), are needed in order to implement the greatest happiness principle (23-25). 


            What is the psychological basis for the practice of the theory?  Chapter III.  Why should anyone be motivated to act in accord with the principle of utility?  In addition to external sanctions (rewards and punishments from society or God) and internal sanctions from conscience (approval or disapproval), there is a firm foundation, "a natural basis of sentiment for utilitarian morality": "the social feelings of mankind, the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures" (10).  With the progress of civilization these feelings tend to become stronger (10-11).  True, there are some persons whose mind is a moral blank, and some do think of their fellows as struggling rivals for the means of happiness [life as a zero-sum game with no win-win prospects in sight].  But the natural, social feelings lead people to regard their interests as one with others' interests.  Thus they come naturally to identify with others' good.  They have a motive for encouraging others to feel and think in the same way.  Such feelings become part of their self-concept; and they feel natural, not artificial, even though selfish feelings may be much stronger.  As civilization progresses, legal supports for inequalities are eliminated, and it becomes necessary to live on equal terms with more than a few and to consult the interests of all.


            Given that we cannot, strictly speaking, prove a basic principle, what considerations can we offer to incline the mind of a reflective and open person toward utilitarianism?  How close can we come to a proof of the theory? 

Chapter IV.  [How close can we come to proving our ultimate principle?]

    [From the third paragraph of chapter IV:]

  1. The proof that something is desirable is that people actually desire it.  [Do you see a problem with this premise?]

  2. Each person desires his or her own happiness. [Are there any exceptions to this generalization?]

  3. Therefore the aggregate of all persons desires the general happiness.  [Does this this conclusion follow from #2?  Does it prove what Mill wants to prove--the ethical validity of utilitarianism?]

The evidence of "practiced self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by observation of others" indicate that "desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as painful," are two names for the same psychological phenomenon (10).  Happiness is the only thing desirable as an end (2).  Each person desires his own happiness.  "Each person's happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons."


[Interpreting alleged counterexamples as complex applications of utilitarian theory]

            Virtues, which at times seem independent of considerations of happiness, are properly understood as characteristics which tend to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number.  Mill's empiricist psychology enables a reductionist account of the classical conditioning that leads to virtue becoming desired "for its own sake." 

            First, we learn to associate virtuous acts with pleasure.  Thus we learn to enjoy doing virtuous acts.  The consciousness that we are doing a virtuous act brings us pleasure.

            We become so devoted to doing what virtue requires that we persist even at the cost of our own individual happiness.  This is as it should be.  Virtue has become a seemingly independent goal, and the general happiness is maximized.


Can utilitarianism provide sturdy principles of rights and justice?  Chapter V.  Justice, whose requirements operate in apparent indifference to happiness, is ultimately best understood in utilitarian terms.

            Here is an outline of Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter V, "On the Connection Between Justice and Utility."  (References are to the paragraphs numbered sequentially and to the pages in the Penguin edition.  Please remember that there are many helpful outlines and approaches.)

[I.  The idea of justice]

            Justice seems to be an inherently absolute concern, unrelated to expediency, utility, or the greatest happiness principle (1).  We need to inquire regarding this natural and strong feeling (2). 

            Is there any one characteristic common to all modes of injustice? (3)  Consider the types (4): it is unjust to . . . (i) deprive someone of his legal rights to liberty and property (unless he has forfeited them) (5); (ii) deprive someone of that to which he has a moral right (6); (iii) to deprive someone of that which he deserves (e.g., by failing to return a favor); (iv) to break faith with someone, for example by breaking a promise (8); to be [unjustifiably] partial (9). 

            The concept of impartiality is associated with equality (except when inequalities are deemed expedient (10).  It is not easy to see what the preceding "applications" of justice have in common (11).  Etymologies indicate that the core notion of justice is conformity to law (12; 320).  Even in society regarding matters when we would not propose legislation, the notion of [quasi-legal] enforcement is in the background (13).  To call something wrong (as opposed to merely disapproving of it) implies that it should be punished by law, opinion, or conscience (14; 321).  "Perfect" duties (unlike imperfect duties, e.g., of beneficence) give rise to correlative rights.  An assignable person is wronged (15; 322). 


[II. The Feeling of Justice]

            Now we are ready to inquire into the feeling of justice (16).  The sentiment (as distinct from what is moral in it) does not arise from an idea of expediency.  It has two essential ingredients: the desire to punish the wrongdoer (based on natural or instinctive responses of self-defense and sympathy) plus the belief that someone has been harmed (18-19).  Humans (unlike animals) are capable of extended sympathy and of understanding of how their own interests and those of the community are linked (20).  Moral resentment is attuned to the general good (Kant, e.g., is to be interpreted in this way)(22).  In sum, the idea of justice presupposes (i) a rule (for the general good) and (ii) a sentiment in favor of punishment (23; 326).



[A. The importance of rights]

            A right implies a valid claim on society to protect [someone or some group] or to provide some good by law or education of opinion (24).  Rights have utilitarian validation; the intensity of feeling is due to the importance of the security at stake (25;327). 

[B. Alternative theories]

            One alternative theory is that justice is independent of utility and discerned by simple introspection--which, however, is notoriously ambiguous and variable (26; 328) and is just as much in dispute as utility is (27).  Various conflicting theories of punishment have a certain plausibility considered in isolation (and perhaps for certain types of case).  Some theories of justice place emphasis on the freedom of the will of the agent held responsible; others emphasize the social contract (broken by unjust conduct); others regard punishment as a means to deter unlawful conduct (28).  Views differ on how to determine the extent of punishment--an eye for an eye?  Should the gravity of the offense determine it? (29)  Should remuneration be distributed on the basis of effort or contribution?  Utility alone can decide (30).  Questions of taxation may also be treated from various standpoints--and utilitarianism alone can resolve the disputes (31). 

[C. Conclusion]

            Justice is of supreme importance, since it pertains to the most absolute of obligations (32): the rules against hurting and interfering with the liberty of others.  To abandon such rules is to regress to the [misery of the anarchy of the] state of nature (33; 333).  Thus [perfect] duties are much more crucial than [imperfect] duties.  The intensity of the sentiment of justice is explained by the intensities of feeling understandably associated with the components (34).  Most (specific) maxims of justice are instrumental to the previously noted principles (35).  Equality--except where it is inexpedient--each person's having an equal claim to happiness--is the heart of utilitarianism.  And social progress has unmasked the disutility of inequalities and will continue to do so regarding the false "aristocracies of color, race, and sex" (36).  "Justice" covers the most useful social rules (which do admit of exceptions)(37).  Hence the proof in favor of utilitarianism is complete (38).




            What is Mill’s primary statement of his theory?  He defines his supreme principle thus: "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.  By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure" (Utilitarianism, chapter 2, par 2). 

            What are some added features of the theory?

            "As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.  In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.  To do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.  As the means of making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility would enjoin, first, that laws and social arrangements should place the happiness, or  (as speaking practically it may be called) the interest, of every individual, as nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole; and secondly, that education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard for the universal happiness prescribes: so that not only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every human being's sentient existence." (Ch 2, par 18)

            In what ways may utilitarianism be classified?

             1.  Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of morality.  "The morality of actions depends on the consequences which they tend to produce" (from Mill's essay "Bentham," p. 171).  A general formula encompassing utilitarianism may be expressed in the form of a theory that proposes a criterion, a necessary and sufficient condition, for the morality of an action: An action is morally right if and only if it leads to the greatest good of the greatest number over the greatest length of time. (Note that actions have not only a moral aspect, but also an aesthetic and sympathetic aspect [p. 172].  Read 123-128 to grasp how empirically oriented is Mill's theory as opposed to that of Kant [criticized on 275].)

            2.  Utilitarianism (with Bentham and Mill) is a eudaimonistic theory of morality: the good is defined in terms of happiness.

            3.  Utilitarianism (with Bentham and Mill) is a hedonistic theory of morality: happiness is defined in terms of pleasure.  Bentham proposed a quantitative hedonic calculus, estimating pleasures in terms of their intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity (how long you have to wait for it), fecundity (how many other pleasures follow upon this one), and purity (the degree to which this pleasure is unmixed with pain) (Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, p. 65-66, and chapter 4, pp. 86-87).

            Mill, desiring to avoid a vulgar hedonism added one more criterion: the quality of the pleasure (pleasures of the mind are preferred to physical pleasures by those acquainted with both kinds).  "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" (Utilitarianism, chapter 2, par 6). 


            What is the difference between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism?  Twentieth century ethicists have distinguished two versions of this theory.  "Act utilitarianism" directs the deliberating agent to calculate the consequences simply of the individual act in question.  "Rule utilitarianism" directs the agent to act according to rules such that, if everyone acted on them, happiness would be maximized.  Mill, acknowledges that there is not time, prior to every action, "for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness" (ch. 2, par 24).  Therefore, there is a need to rely on secondary rules.  In practice, secondary rules are relied upon, since they usually express the winnowed experience of human history regarding what sorts of conduct are conducive to the general happiness.  Rule utilitarians sometimes claim that commonly recognized principles of morality in fact express the evolved wisdom about which sorts of actions in fact tend to bring weal and woe (welfare and misery).  Therefore, utilitarianism is not such a revolutionary proposal at it may have seemed.  Nevertheless, these common secondary rules (do not kill, steal, commit adultery, tell a lie) cannot be taken as absolutes.  Not every popular principle will necessarily pass the test of the utilitarian criterion.

            How are we to make exceptions to secondary rules?  In particular cases, the utilitarian criterion will show the need to make an exception to a secondary rule.  Mill explains how with the example of the secondary rule about lying.  He first sets forth why the rule is so worthy of respect; next he cites a case which calls for an exception; and finally he shows how to minimize the bad consequences of breaking the law (by carefully--in Kant's terms--formulating the maxim). 

            "It would often be expedient, for the purpose of getting over some momentary embarrassment, or attaining some object immediately useful to ourselves or others, to tell a lie.  But inasmuch as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation from truth does that much towards weakening the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilization, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such transcendent expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they can place in each other's word, acts the part of one of their worst enemies.  Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists; the chief of which is when the withholding of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would preserve some one (especially a person other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial.  But in order that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and may have the least possible effect in weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recognized, and, if possible, its limits defined; and if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the region within which one or the other preponderates. (Ch 2, par 23)


Utilitarianism: Objections and Replies

It is often easier to criticize than to provide a good response to objections and to assess how important they are.  This discussion will present objections and then give a utilitarian response.  It is left to the reader to judge whether the responses suffice.


1.  What if enslaving a small minority were to give lots pleasure to a large majority?  Can utilitarianism provide any ground for rights?

            Mill devotes his concluding chapter to this question.  His defense of rights is strong, yet he still allows for exceptions, following the greatest happiness principle.

2. When we face a trade-off between economic and ecological concerns, or between safety and money, how can we make a calculation expressing different kinds of value in terms of a common measure?

            In fact we make such trade-offs every day and cannot help doing so.

3.  It's hard to calculate the consequences of an action, so a theory that requires us to do doesn't give us much help.

            The fact that it's hard to estimate consequences does not relieve us of our responsibility to do so as well as we reasonably can.  Moreover, utilitarianism makes use of secondary rules as representing the evolutionary harvest of the experience of humankind about what actions tend to maximize happiness.

4.  To many people it is clear that we are morally permitted to do many things--such as taking a vacation, choosing a career, or devoting our energies to a few relationships--that may not be obviously justifiable on utilitarian grounds.

            A rule permitting such choices (within a reasonable range, excluding grossly expensive and narrowly self-interested options) will maximize happiness for everyone.

5.  Utilitarianism is vague.  To act with regard for all sentient beings doesn't tell me how to weigh the life of many sparrows against the life of a human being.  It doesn't tell me how to weigh the serious consequences for one person against the minor consequences for several others. 

            There is no rule for such decisions, and a general moral principle should not be expected to provide such detailed guidance, since its function is to orient moral striving.

6.  Rule utilitarianism collapses back into act utilitarianism, if the rule utilitarian must accept the following rule: Exceptions to generally acceptable moral rules are to be made when those exceptions conduce to the greatest good of the greatest number.

            Since there is often no reason to make exceptions, secondary rules continue to be helpful, which is as much support as any ethical theory should give to secondary rules.

7.  Kenneth Arrow has shown that, on one formal model of the utilitarian calculus, there is, roughly speaking, no guaranteed method of making a welfare decision.

            Utilitarianism never promised you an algorithm to mechanically calculate how to maximize happiness.


 8.  Who will make the calculation for whom?  We have a tendency to overestimate our own interests and to underestimate the interests of competitors or remote others.  Mill appeals to what an impartial spectator or an "ideal observer" would judge.  But how can we approximate such an all-embracing perspective?

            Decisions that impact many people can and should often be made not just by imagining consequences but by letting those affected play a democratic role in a fair and law-governed decision process.  Utilitarianism begins as a philosophy for personal decision-making, but it functions for institutional decision-making as well.  Each participant, however, is to estimate the consequences, not only for himself or herself, but for all.

9.  Utilitarianism is unrealistically demanding.  It is wrong to require the individual to sacrifice his or her interests to the majority.  It is wiser to require just a slight preference on the altruistic urge.

            Planetary civilization today shows urgent need for major changes.  Certain economic adjustments and social changes are imperative if cultural disaster is to be avoided.  Modern man is confronted with the task of making more readjustments of human values in one generation than have been made in two thousand years. 

10.  Utilitarianism is a white, male, Eurocentric philosophy that does not do enough to respond to the diversity of human needs.  Talk of universal obligations may be merely an ideological cover, masking the Eurocentric pursuit of power over non-white peoples.

            By drawing attention to the equal importance of the suffering and happiness of each individual, utilitarianism shows the way past the problems mentioned.  It is indeed wrong to pursue power over other peoples, and in criticizing European colonialism, the critic appeals to a universal principle, a universal obligation. 

11.  Concepts of universal or planetary values and obligations are inhumanely insensitive to our primary relationships as family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, Americans, etc.  Utilitarianism elevates male abstractions over the concrete relationships of caring that make up a truly moral and ethical human life.

12.  Utilitarianism defines the good in terms of happiness, and happiness in terms of pleasure, but this is reductionistic.  Goodness is correlated with truth and beauty on physical, intellectual, and spiritual levels.

            A broad enough conception of happiness and pleasure can accommodate those values.

13.  Utilitarianism neglects the role of prayer and spiritual guidance in moral living.

            The individual is welcome to use any method he or she finds helpful in illuminating the path of right action.  The individual remains responsible, however, after opening up to higher wisdom in prayer, to make sure that the result can reasonably be expected to conduce to the general welfare and not simply to assume that whatever input enters the mind after such an opening gets accepted as necessarily coming from a higher source.

14.  What additional criticisms of the theory do you have?  How do you think a utilitarian could respond?



Mill’s Utilitarianism and Religion


            How do ethics and religion relate, according to Mill?  Mill acknowledges (p. 222) the fact that, philosophy—with its commitment to unrestricted freedom of thought—and religion, are both here to stay (p. 222 in Alan Ryan’s Penguin collection of Bentham and Mill).  Furthermore, as a mid-nineteenth century British thinker, he predicts that no philosophy will be speedily received unless it is supportive of Christianity.

Mill does oppose a certain kind of religion that he regards as unenlightened: (a) bibliolatry (taking every verse of scripture as divinely revealed); (b) relying primarily on miracles (p. 204); (c) motivating religion primarily by promises of rewards and threats of punishments.

In Utilitarianism Mill says several things indicating an overlap between his ethical philosophy and Christianity.  Jesus’ golden rule, he says, expresses “the complete spirit of the ethics of utility” (288).  Furthermore, to make a good estimate of the pleasure consequences of actions, “many Stoic as well as Christian elements require to be included.”  (279).  He further notes that “all selfish interests must be terminated by death” (285); note that this implies a cleansing of interest, not the annihilation of every interest; presumably interests in the good of the whole could survive this life. 

We are motivated to right action by a variety of motives, including external sanctions—rewards and punishments coming from outside ourselves.  For Mill, these include “the hope of favor and the fear of displeasure from our fellow creatures or from the Ruler o the Universe, along with whatever we may have of sympathy or affection for them, or of love and awe of Him, inclining us to do his will independently of selfish consequences” (299).

            Mill carefully rebuts the charge that utilitarianism is a godless philosophy.   If God if perfectly wise and good, if God desires the happiness of his creatures, and gives us only general indications, then we need ethics to interpret the will of God in more detail.


Study questions

Chapter I.  If basic principles cannot be demonstrated (since demonstration would rest on principles that must be more basic), what can be done to show that such basic principles are rational?

Chapter II

1.  What is the principle of utility?   What different statements of it does Mill give?

2.  How does Bentham's concept of pleasure differ from Mill's?  For what reasons can we imagine that Bentham's theory was regarded as scandalous in its day?

3.  Can Mill introduce the evaluative criterion of the quality of a pleasure without abandoning the ambition of articulating a single, supreme principle of morality?

4.  Give an example of a specific moral rule and say why it differs from the principle of utility.

5.  How do you make exceptions to specific moral rules?  See the copy of the computer classroom exercise on the following page.

6.  Are there any absolutely unbreakable specific moral rules?


Chapter III

1.  What motivates you to act morally?

2.  What is a sanction?

3.  What external and internal sanctions does Mill discuss in Chapter 3?


Chapter IV

4.  How successfully does Mill argue (in the opening pages of Chapter 4) that someone who values happiness must value "the general happiness"--the happiness of all?

5.  What is Mill trying to do in his discussion of virtue in Chapter 4?


Chapter V

1.  Why is justice a challenging topic for a utilitarian?

2.  Summarize Mill's argument in this chapter.


            Exercise: Mill's method of making exceptions to rules, or how responsibly to override a prima facie duty 

            1.  State the relevant rule.


            2.  Recognize the social value of the rule.  Complete the following sentence: The rule I have chosen is helpful to society because . . .




            3.  Describe the case in which an exception should be made to the rule.


            4.  Define the limits of the exception to your rule.  Write down the morally relevant feature(s) of the case that justify the exception.




Mill, On the Subjection of Women


Taken from the internet on November 23, 2004 from the website of Matthew Noah Smith, Professor in philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  http://www.unc.edu/~mateo/pl37.mill.subjection.htm


Here is the general argument that Mill says he will give in On the Subjection of Women


1.     People should do what will maximize utility for all in their society (utilitarian premise)

2.     Equality of the sexes will maximize utility for all in a society

3.     People should work to ensure equality of the sexes, ‘admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other…’ (from 1 and 2)


But, he does not really give this argument.  Instead, he gives two arguments against those who claim that the current system of subordinating women is the best system.


First, Mill argues that there is no evidence that any other system of power relations between the sexes has been tried.  So, there is no evidence on which to base a definitive claim that subordination of women to men is superior to other relations between women and men. 


Second, this current system of subordination was never seriously analyzed before it was instituted. It came about through mere chance and became enshrined as a main organizing principle in our society.  This is the graver of the two errors because it is relying on one of the oldest and most misleading fallacies, namely that popularity of an opinion is sufficient evidence of its truth.


But, the pro-subordination camp says in response, women have chosen to be subordinate to men.  So, it would be wrong to change the system.


Mill responds by giving an argument that relies on the following two general principles:


1.     If F can be attacked successfully on independent grounds as an unjust practice, then F can never be just, even someone consents to it

2.     If it can be shown that one would rationally consent to F only under serious duress, i.e. only if they had no other reasonable options, then consent to F involves too many collateral costs to make F justified


Utilitarian thinking about career--by a high school student named Karl Marx

            At age 17, Marx observed that human beings have a special dignity in being able to choose a path toward elevating themselves and society.  One can be made very miserable by a wrong choice of vocation.  It is easy to be deceived about the inner voice of Deity: "Everything great glitters, glitter begets ambition, and ambition can easily have caused the inspiration or what we thought to be inspiration."  Here are the closing paragraphs in his essay.

        The main principle, however, which must guide us in the selection of a vocation is the welfare of humanity, our own perfection.  One should not think that these two interests combat each other, that the one must destroy the other.  Rather, man's nature makes it possible for him to reach h is fulfillment only by working for the perfection and welfare of his society.

        If a person works only for himself he can perhaps be a famous scholar, a great wise man, a distinguished poet, but never a complete, genuinely great man.

        History calls those the greatest men who ennobled themselves by working for the universal.  Experience praises as the most happy the one who m ade the most people hapyl.  Religion itself teaches us that the ideal for which we are all striving sacrificed itself for humanity, nad who would dare to destroy such a statement?

        When we have chosen the vocation in which we can contribute most to humanity, burdens cannot bend us because they are only sacrifices for all.  Then we experience no meager, limited, egotistic joy, but our happiness belongs to millions, our deeds live on quietly but eternally effective, and glowing tears of noble men will fall on our ashes.

   Karl Marx (1818-1883), in The Writings of the Young Marx (Easton and Guddat, eds.) p. 39.