J. S. Mill's account of utilitarianism is mostly a series of replies to objections to the latter theory. Mill's act utilitarianism claims that the ultimate end of a moral agent is bringing about the maximal amount of happiness among human beings. There are lots of objections, but Mill is usually very persuasive in his rebuttals. He unfortunately fails at showing that a desire for one's own happiness necessarily implies a desire for everybody's happiness. This is key to his argument. However, it is a short book full of interesting ideas, written by one of the keenest philosophical minds of all times......Continua
I just finished reading John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism for the first time. While I find it interesting, I have some problems with it, and given that it is in many ways the foundation for modern microeconomic analysis, it has led be to think hard about its implications for economics. Utilitarianism is broadly defined as the belief that people are motivated by a desire for the greatest happiness (defined in the broadest sense) for the greatest number with all individuals of equal value, and with the route to happiness being justice which is defined as the right to not be coerced ("freedom") and to some basic set of goods (presumably associated with the basics of life). As a policy for government, I am sympathetic to it and suspect that most in the US would in the abstract find it attractive. But in practice it presents a fundamental problem: namely, greater freedom necessarily means a reduced ability to provide those certain goods, and an increased ability to provide those certain goods means less freedom. Thus, in practice, some balance between the two is needed, and here is where political battles are fought (think Libertarians versus Socialists). The reason for there are battles is that while Utilitarianism may appear to be desirable from a public policy, it is my experience that people in general do not use it to run their own lives. Thus, for example, Libertarians would resent the taxes needed to provide those necessary goods.
The implications for economics derive from the fact that standard microeconomics has for the most part focused on the goods aspect of Utilitarianism (think consumer surplus) and ignores the freedom notion (think process). How this might play out in economic thinking, I am not sure. It may be significant; it may be trivial. But I do think the dichotomy between goods and freedom lies at the conflicts that we see being played out in US politics today....Continua