What specific differences are there between Mill and Bentham’s Utilitarian philosophy?
Jessica Pope | Certified Educator
John Stuart Mill was a rules-based utilitarian. He believed that we should base all our decisions on predetermined rules of behavior. For Mill, part of what it means to be ethical is that you have gone through the process of rationallly determining what actions will generallly produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Mill believed that anyone who earnestly applied him/herself to this enterprise would make universal conclusions. The conclusions he expected - that lying, stealing and cheating are wrong, and that generosity and honesty are good - fall in line with accepted ethical standards. Thus, though utilitarianism was not univerally accepted by philosophers or theologans, Mills' conclusions about what constituted an ethical life were virtually indistinguishable from those of his challengers. Bentham was a pragmatic utilitarian. He believed that each situation needed to be decided on a case-by-case basis and that rules were not very useful. Bentham emphasized that in the real world we often don't have time to think through all contingencies, and that we must do our best with limited information. We will never have a comprehensive set of facts, yet we must act decisively anyway. Bentham's utilitarianism was also colored by cultural relatavism. He believed that what constituted good might be different for different communities.