Throughout the history of humanity, morals have been a well-versed and disputatious debate that many philosophers fail to define. Philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and John Stuart Mill, are prime examples of this debate. Sartre passionately argued the validity of the Existentialism, while Mill believed in the ethical philosophy of Utilitarianism. In the University’s “Being Human” class, taught by Denise Hatcher, the students studied and discussed the two philosophical concepts, in search of finding a moral consistency.
Jean-Paul Sartre lived from 1905 to 1980 and is arguably the best known philosopher of the 20th century. His career mainly focused on the development of Existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with humanity finding itself through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. Many of his publications argued the defense of his philosophical theory, because critics poked a plethora of ideology holes and approached his misunderstood jargon as contradictions. John Stuart Mill, who lived from 1806 to 1873, was an English Philosopher that held many focuses throughout his career. One of his focuses was Utilitarianism. Though he did not construct the philosophy, Mill expounded upon the ideology, by defining the difference between forms of pleasure and arguing that people who practice philosophy, benefit society more than those who engage in individualist practices for pleasure, which are lower forms of pleasure or happiness, because they are in search of educating the society of a “Greater Good.”
In Sartre’s publication “Existentialism is a Humanism”, he states “Existence Precedes Essence”, illustrating a mantra the philosophy follows, in terms of humanity taking authentic responsibility for the species legacy, through the actions that have transpired through our existence. This philosophy argues for authenticity, while Utilitarianism teaches that human morality is lined with the service to a “Greater Good”. As stated in John Stuart Mill’s publication “Utilitarianism”,
The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded.…If utility is the ultimate source of moral obligations, utility may be invoked…There is no case of moral obligation where in which some secondary principle is not involved.
This excerpt presents utility as the basis of everything people desire and insists that moral actions are the actions that allow the greatest amount of utility to be experienced in the world. That is the concept of aiding the Greater Good. The overall difference between Utilitarianism and Existentialism is the argument of whether or not the individual or the society is valued more, to create a moral whole. Existentialism theorizes that morality is individual authenticity. Sartre’s Existentialism is founded on the importance of the moral individual, through the responsibility of each action a person chooses to portray. Mill’s Utilitarianism believes that the pursuit of creating the highest level of happiness in the society is what creates a moral humanity.
While Existentialism and Utilitarianism are different philosophical theories with varying centers of importance, they come together in search for the common goal of defining human morality. With that common goal, both theories can agree on what constitutes as immoral actions, such as murder or theft, though they contradict each other in nearly every other fundamental aspect, considering they take opposite stances on the debate of the individual creating a moral humanity or the society creates the moral whole.
Philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and John Stuart Mill, are prime examples of the debate of human morality. Both philosophers dedicated their careers for the search of truth, in terms of the human moral dilemma. Though both theories attempt to answer the same question, Mill’s Utilitarianism highly contradicts Sartre’s Existentialism.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism Is a Humanism. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
(Collegiate paper I wrote two semesters ago. Just thought I’d share with you all )