What is Mill's response to the claim that utilitarianism is a doctrine of expediency?

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The idea that Utilitarianism is a doctrine of expediency means that the Utilitarian will simply take the most convenient or enjoyable course, without reference to principle. This makes it a way of avoiding those difficult decisions which are the essence of morality.

Mill begins by remarking that this is really...

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a linguistic point rather than a philosophical one. People use the word "expediency" and contrast it with "principle." Utilitarianism, however, is founded on principle. Mill points out that the word "expediency" is used in different senses. It may mean no more than selfishness:

But the Expedient, in the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally means that which is expedient for the particular interest of the agent himself: as when a minister sacrifices the interest of his country to keep himself in place.

This would obviously not be a Utilitarian solution, since it sacrifices the greater good to the ambition of one man. Even when expediency means something better than this, however, it usually refers to a temporary solution which violates a more important long-term objective.

The Expedient, in this sense, instead of being the same thing with the useful, is a branch of the hurtful. Thus, 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.

Mill's argument about virtue here is similar to Aristotle's. Virtue is ultimately conducive to happiness. It will not increase the long-term happiness either of you or of those around you if you become a liar. Indeed, it is a vitally important aspect of civilization that we should care about truth and it is therefore a violation of the Utility principle to lie or to become used to lying. Expediency, therefore, is only consonant with Utilitarianism if it is for the long-term good of the greatest number. If this is really the case, then there can be no moral objection to it.

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Mill dismisses the insinuation that utilitarianism instructs people to pursue expediency at the cost of morality. He denounces the criticism that utilitarianism supports immoral human acts aimed at satisfying human wants and needs. According to Mill, a man may cheat or steal if the actions attract benefits they pursue, but their actions do not conform to utilitarianism because those actions end up bringing harm.

Mill is opposed to the assertion that utilitarianism is the pursuit of expediency, stating that expediency facilitates short-term gains and ignores the long-term harm caused by the achievement of self-gratification. Mill suggests that the long-term harm caused by expediency is greater than the short-term gains because the gains are only enjoyed by an individual, but the majority will suffer the long-term harm.

For instance, a man stealing in order to pay a debt satisfies that particular responsibility, but the long-term effects of his actions will not only affect his reputation and freedom, it will also affect the happiness of those he robbed. Thus, expediency does not conform to principles of utilitarianism because it does not serve to maximize the benefits for any person involved but instead causes harm.

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In Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, Mill says that some people will accuse utilitarianism of being a philosophy that is really just about expediency.  Therefore, they will say, it has nothing to do with what is right.  What this means is that people think that utilitarianism says that you can just do whatever is easiest or whatever is best for you at a given moment.  Mill, however, rejects this criticism.

According to Mill, this criticism of utilitarianism is based on a poor understanding of what is expedient.  Mill says that things that people say are expedient really are not.  For example, he says that a person might really want to tell a lie to get themselves out of a tight spot.  However, he says, this is not really what is best for that person.  He says that a person who tells lies is essentially ruining his or her reputation.  In the long run, this is going to be very bad for the person.  No one will trust that person and that will be much worse than the predicament that the person lied to get out of.  As Mill says,

…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.

However, as he goes on to say,

…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…

What he is saying here is that telling the truth is one of the most useful things to us, and a lack of honesty is one of the things that is most hurtful to us. 

So, what Mill is saying is that utilitarianism does not approve of actions that people would typically call expedient.  These actions really only seem to help people but, in the long term, they are harmful.  Because they are harmful, utilitarians would not approve of them.  Utilitarianism, then, is not a doctrine that approves of things that are merely done from what the world calls expediency.

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