John Stuart Mill is well known for his contributions to utilitarianism. His views were influenced by both his father, James Mill and the founder of the utilitarian school of ethical thought, Jeremy Bentham as well as his own firm beliefs in the principles of liberalism. His main treatise on the subject is the collection of essays in the book “Utilitarianism” although he did reference the theory at several other points in his published works.

Contribution to Utilitarianism
The utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill is based on the principle of Utility or the Greatest Happiness Principle which states that actions are correct based on their tendency to promote happiness or pleasure among the greatest number of people and wrong based on their tendency to do the opposite (Mill, 2005). Critics of utilitarianism would suggest that this is a morally bankrupt and animalistic way of determining right from wrong. In response to these critics Mill makes an argument that is a compelling feature of his view; that all pleasures are not equal. This is an evolution from Bentham’s original form of utilitarianism in which all forms of happiness are considered equally.

Mill’s definitions of Happiness and Pleasure
In :Utilitarianism" Mill argues that the pleasure that an intelligent human being experiences is that of higher order or quality than that of an animal or an ignoramus and that the former would not consent to become the latter even if promised the highest amount of pleasure possible for such creatures. Mill recognizes that even though, as humans we are intrinsically capable of higher pleasures, we often substitute them for lower pleasures. This is attributed to weakness in character, for example even though we know that some acts are bad for our health, smoking excessive drinking, we continue to pursue them. Over time we lose even our desires for the higher pleasures of noble feelings if we continue only satisfy our base urges. Thus Mill argues that the satisfaction of the nobler pleasure can also form the basis of morality. In further response to critics who suggest that happiness cannot be the rational aim of a person’s life or that happiness as a goal is unsustainable, Mill argues that happiness as a “continuous state of highly pleasurable excitement” is indeed unacceptable but that this is not an adequate definition of happiness. Instead a life of happiness is one with periods of tranquillity and excitement. In order to be happy a person must stimulate the mind and be unselfish (Mill, 2005).

Since the goal of utilitarianism is not to maximize the actor’s happiness but rather the happiness of others, utilitarianism is most successful when the society in general cultivated what Mill refers to as “nobleness of character”. Utilitarianism can lead to self-sacrifice since it maximizes the greatest utility. This can bring about the argument that utilitarianism does not take into account sentiment. For example George Sher (2012) and many philosophers feel that emotion is left behind in utilitarianism. For example, if there is an intelligent small child unknown to an individual (a middle-aged man) and his elderly mother are on train tracks with a train coming towards them. If only one can be saved, Sher (2012) suggests, “How do I choose?” If one were following the idea of utilitarianism than it would be in the benefit of more people to save the child, because she has so much potential and so much life to contribute. However, one must not leave his mother to be hit by the train. Because of sentiment most people would choose their mother, or the relative they felt closest to.
Other critics argue that there might not be time to calculate the maximum utility or that what brings happiness varies between individuals and populations (Beekun 2010)

For Mill, Utilitarianism is not only an ethical decision making theory, it is also a way of life and a basis for morality. The utilitarian theory has proven the test of time and has been studied for hundreds of years. Like other theories, it is subject to positive feedback and negative criticisms.

Beekun, R. I., Stedham, Y., Westerman, J. W., & Yamamura, J. H. (2010). Effects of Justice and Utilitarianism On Ethical Decision Making. Business Ethics: A European Review, 19(4), 309-325.
Mill, J. S. (2005). Utilitarianism.
Sher, G. (2012). Ethics essential readings in moral theory. New York: Routledge.