A Sound Ethical Theory

Submitted by ReidMR on Mon, 06/17/2013 - 21:06

A Sound Ethical Theory

Mill advanced a sound ethical theory based upon philosophical logic. Here is an understandable version to be used on this site.

One ethical theory is a far superior moral guide than social norms, religion, personal interests, and laws. Utilitarianism was already established but refined and advanced by John Stuart Mill and called the Millean Rule Utilitarian Theory. It provides a sound ethical basis for decision making. As in most things adherence is an ideal I strive for with varied levels of success. This moral theory is what I will base ethics articles on. I have enhanced its usability.

I have tried to use relevant language to concisely distill the essence of the ethical theory so more people can understand and use it in everyday life. The current form is cumbersome and difficult to understand. A wordy, complex, and complete version I garnered from my philosophy class taught by Dr Shaffer (R: 1, 2, 3) will follow the concise version.

Utilitarianism essentially calls for doing what universally and evenly increases mental and physical pleasure. Anything that can feel those pleasures is accounted for.

Mill's theory has a couple components. Simplified, the first component requires that we only do things that result in evenly spread mental and physical pleasures. The second component gives moral consideration to anything that can feel mental and physical pleasure.

The theory uses the following precise language to ensure a consistent meaning. The first component is called the principle of right conduct which states: a particular act is right, if and only if, it is the token of an act type the performance of which, as a rule, maximizes utility in the most evenly distributed manner possible. The second component is the principle of value which is: a being is intrinsically morally valuable, if and only if, it is sentient. Sentience is the ability to perceive happiness or unhappiness which in turn is intellectual and physical pleasure or pain. Intellectual pleasure is superior to physical pleasure. (R: 1, 2, 3).

Mill's morality is based on the consequences of actions and as such allows for punishment when problems arise from good intentions. Intentions are irrelevant to the moral theory as only outcomes matter. For example, even though oil companies accidentally (unintentionally) spill oil, they are still held accountable for the cleanup because Mill only considers the consequences — the oil spilled.

I will use a structure similar to the following to assist with reaching moral conclusions. I may modify the structure depending on what is being determined.

To determine morality we need to consider a few things.

Act: a statement relating to morality. What we are trying to figure out…

Standing: can the involved parties feel pleasure? (Plus supporting details if any).

…(Net total of the consequences for the action) All realistic options available.

~(How pleasure is impacted using a −5 to +5 scale) All societal consequences of the options. (Supporting details if any).


Act: When someone is bothering us we should…

Standing: All parties (botherer and bothered) feel mental and physical pleasure. (The people must feel because they can bother and be bothered).

…(+6) Leave the area where the person is.

~(0) People could be bothered if they saw them again. (Pleasure would be unchanged. Things would remain as before).
~(+3) People would likely avoid confrontation.
~(+3) People would likely avoid retaliatory harm.

…(0) Ask them to stop.

~(-3) The situation may worsen if the person becomes upset. (The botherer could become violent).
~(0) The situation may stay the same.
~(+3) The situation would improve if they stop.

…(0)Ignore them.

~(-3)The situation may worsen if they continue.
~(0) The situation may continue as normal.
~(+3) The situation would likely improve if the botherer stopped.

…(-9) End their life.

~(-5) If everyone did this everyone would be dead.
~(-5) Others have their right to life removed.
~(-4) A child, partner, or other person may lose a supporter they are dependent on.
~(-3) The punishment is disproportionate to the provocation.
~(-1) People may feel guilty.
~(+1) The bothered may feel satisfied.
~(+2) Nobody would ever bother anyone again.
~(+3) It may result in a more peaceful world.
~(+3) Botherers would not bother others.

I will follow with a conclusion based on the evidence presented. Sometimes I will have to update articles to reflect new information which may change the outcome.


In this example, based upon the initial statement and the supporting evidence we can conclude that because it had a net pleasure GAIN of 6 the most moral rule is: When someone is bothering us we should leave the area where the person is. Both ignoring them and asking them to stop appear to be neutral. Ending someones life appears immoral as it had a net pleasure LOSS of 9. This result could be completely changed with new: information, ways to react, weights, and initial acts. I may update any of those to better refine the conclusion by simply updating the initial articles.

I may follow with additional information that was not part of the calculation. If that is the case I will list it here.

This was a basic intro to the Millean Rule Utilitarian Theory which has been adapted for increased usability.

These can be wordy and confusing. Contact me for clarification. I suspect this article will be updated and modified.

(R) References:

R1. Dr Shaffer. 2008. A philosophy professor of mine. I used class lectures, notes, handouts, and books to distill and summarize the information presented. I am unsure what sources specifically each piece of information has been distilled from, however, the information presented is adequate to provide a sound introduction to the ethical theory. I have intended no copyright infringement. Please contact me with any issues.
R2. We used this book in class. The fifth edition of: "Conduct and Character: Readings in Moral Theory" by Timmons published by Wadsworth Press.
R3. We used this book in class. The fifth edition of: "Contemporary Issues in Business Ethics" by DesJardins and McCall published by Wadsworth Press.

(F) Further Reading:

F1. Intro to Utilitarianism
F2. Wikipedia: John Stuart Mill
F3. Wikipedia: Rule Utilitarianism
F4. Wikipedia: Utilitarianism (Book) by John Stuart Mill
F5. Google: "Mill utilitarianism"