"Utilitarianism," a moral theory associated with the British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) among others, holds that the moral rightness or wrongness of an act depends on the total amount of happiness (which is a function of pleasure and pain) contained in its consequences compared to the consequences of any other acts available to the agent at the same time.
That is, in any given situation, one would consider all possible acts, note all the consequences of each of these possibilities, total up the happiness in each of these sets of consequences, and then rank them from most to least happiness. The closer to the top of the list, the better it would be morally to choose that act; the closer to the bottom of the list, the worse it would be morally to choose that act.
Philosophers have always been interested in understanding the nature and sources of happiness. The question, “What is a good life?”
J. S. Mill agreed with Bentham on the basic principle of utility, namely that “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” But Mill made a distinction that Bentham did not: Mill distinguished between the “quality” of pleasures, not just the “quantity” as Bentham had done in his hedonic calculus.
John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism emphasized quality of pleasure rather than the quantity. “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, is of a different opinion, it is because they know only their side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”
Mill responded by describing a different theory of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites. You cannot measure pleasures on quantity alone, but must include...