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From Mill read (4-18)
From SInger read(229-235)
A Note on My Reading “Guides””
This is the first week where we’re engaging with the material. Each week’s folder will have this “guide” not to tell you what everything “means,” but to either: a) ask productive questions to get you “unstuck” with what something means, or b.) provide something like a “scaffold” of the argument, through questions, to help you start to see the author(s)’s bigger project in the text. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions.
In the assigned reading, Mill starts off by discussing the centuries-long criticisms with hedonistic philosophies (meaning philosophical systems or world views that focus on “pleasure,” and used without negative connotations). Who are the critics he’s responding to?
Based on his response, how does he begin to articulate a defense of utilitarianism?
Mill’s version of The Greatest Happiness Principle is going to be based, in no small part, on his definition of “pleasure.” Why does Mill define pleasure like he does, and how does it work in the GHP?
If you’re stuck, by way of answering the above question, Mill divides his discussion of pleasure into two types. What are these, and which of the two is more important to Mill’s overall argument?
How does Mill answer the question about “who determines the quality/quantity distinction,” when it comes to pleasures?
As a way of being critical, or perhaps pressing Mill a bit, is his definition of “happiness” good enough? Does it include everything it should and, maybe more importantly, would it be something we could really call “happiness?”
As an additional point I’d like you to consider: should happiness receive as much focus, in terms of helping give us some guidance when we have a moral dilemma, as Mill gives it?
Singer, like Mill, is a consequentialist. This means they both consider the moral worth of actions to be primarily determined by the outcomes of said action. I’m including Singer in the discussion to focus on the other side of the GHP—the part about minimizing unnecessary pain and suffering. Overall, how does pain factor into each philosopher’s argument?
Singer, in the beginning of his argument, asks a very simple question about whether or not we have an obligation to prevent suffering if we don’t stand to lose anything of equal moral significance. Why might he ask this question, especially in the beginning of his argument? How does the drowning child example serve to highlight this point?
Over the course of his article, Singer is going to bring up several reasons people will commonly give to mean they shouldn’t help people who are significantly suffering—or at least that they’re not morally required to do so. How does Singer respond to each of these?
Based on your answer to the above question, how does Singer’s answer play into our traditional discussions around giving to charity?