What is the difference between the Theories of Mill and Bentham?

On the one hand J.S. Mill popularised the Utilitarianism of his father James Mill and his friend Bentham and on the other hand, he continued his enquiry into truth. Consequently, Utilitarianism is that theory which treats of the principle of utility of maximum, happiness as the basis of morality and believes that actions are good in the same ratio as they produce pleasure and are wrong in the same ratio as they tend to produce the converse of pleasure.

The Classical Utilitarians (Hackett Classics): John Troyer ...

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Difference between the theories of Mill and Bentham:

Mill’s theory differs from Bentham’s even though Mill has founded the school of Utilitarianism on Bentham’s principles. The theories of Mill and Bentham differ from each other in the following respects.


(i) Qualitative distinction in tendencies:

Bentham does pot admit of any difference in tendencies but Mill classified human tendencies and by virtue of qualitative difference called some noble and other base. In this way lie said that intellectual tendencies are far superior to physiological tendencies.

(ii) Qualitative distinction in pleasures:

In the same way, Mill made qualitative distinctions in different pleasures. According to Bentham, all pleasures are similar. If the quantity of pleasure be the same, then there is no difference between poetry and pushpin. Contrary to this, according to Mill, ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. In this way Mill clearly states that sensous pleasure originating from animal tendencies is not everything. Mendal or intellectual pleasure is far superior.


(iii) Differences in the assumptions about human nature:

Actually Mill and Bentham differed in their assumptions relating to human nature. Bentham did not look upon man as anything better than animal. According to him, man is always in search of pleasure. Pleasures do not have qualitative distinctions. According to Mill, man is not, merely an animal. He is superior to animals. He has intellect and intellectual pleasure is superior to sensual pleasure. Man’s importance is due to his intellect. He does not run blind folded after pleasures. He makes qualitative distinctions in pleasures.

(iv) Difference in ethical principles:

Thus the ethical principles of Mill and Bentham also differ. According to Bentham man should carry out activities yielding the maximum pleasure, without making qualitative distinctions. According to Mill, Man is not to become an animal. His humanity is valuable. It is creditable to be human being even by designing sensual pleasure. Man’s duty is to attain high qualities and nobler or great pleasures.



Bentham and Mill share their belief about pleasure being the supreme end of life- ‘Happiness is the sole end of human actions’ Pleasure and freedom from pain are the sole desirable things and ends to be sought. All other objects are merely the means to the seeking of pleasure. Mill makes no distinction between pleasure and happiness. According to him, character, health, respect etc are all means to happiness. He makes a hedonistic description of good and evil – that activity which is pleasant, meaning that which gives more pleasure than pain is good. An activity to be called evil and should cause pain or more pain than pleasure.

Psychological Hedonism:

The hedonism of Mill is based on psychological hedonism, in favour of which he presents the following arguments. Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant are in strictness of languages, two modes of meaning the same psychological fact : to think of an object as desirable and to think of it as pleasant are one and the same thing and to desire anything except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical impossibility. What is implied is that we always desire only that object which is pleasant. Thus, we desire only pleasure.

Logic of Ethical Hedonism:

Mill is a supporter of ethical hedonism and as was the case – with Bentham, believes that it is based on psychological hedonism, v He gives the following logic to prove this ethical hedonism. The only | proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people 1 actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audiable is that people if hear it; the sole evidence that anything is desirable is that people hear | it, the sole evidence that anything is desirable is that people do actually desire it.


According to Mill, the ultimate goal is not individual but rather general happiness. Only that which is also pleasant for others is right for the individual. Moral standard is general happiness. That desire, action or motive which adds to the general happiness is good, and its converse bad. The standard of utilitarianism is not the maximum pleasure of the door, but rather the maximum yield of the pleasure itself. Prior to Mill, Bentham also bad looked upon general happiness as the ultimate end but Bentham did not fully understand his selfless hedonism and neither did he give any arguments in favour of it. But Mill also tried to strengthen it by logic.

Logic of Altruism:

Mill accepts that proof cannot be applied to questions of supreme aim in a general way. But he believes the ultimate truth to be intelligible. Thus in order to prove altruistic hedonism he presents the following logic- ‘No reason can be gives why the general happiness is desirable except that each person so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons.

Psychological proof:

To explain the samething, Mill also made use of human Psychology. Man is selfish and always tries to attain his own pleasure. In the beginning in order to escape his feeling of pain he sympathises with others and tries to relieve their miseries, meaning there by that he does service to others on account of his own selfish interests. In this way, to start with, social happiness is a mere means to individual happiness. But according to the law of association in thought the means soon become the ends. Doing service time and again we forget that it is a mere means and accordingly, help, sympathy and service etc. themselves become the end. In this way man sees his happiness in the happiness of others and abandoning selfishness comes to selflessness. This is sympathetic hedonism. In this way, in man’s life itself altruism is generated from selfishness and sympathy or feeling of brotherliness from self love. In the same way, taking the aim of pleasure man ordained good qualities but as time passed he derived pleasure from the good qualities themselves. Good qualities become ends than means.

Ethical Sanction:

Mill does not rest satisfied having taken the origin of selflessness to be selfishness but to make it natural he also points towards an internal sanction. As for Bentham’s ethical sanction, he treats them as external. Selfless activities taking place due to them are also inspired by internal selfishness. Thus, Mill adds to these external sanctions an internal sanction as well. This feeling of social cost- science is a natural tendency. A selfish person quells its voice. But a cultural person possesses a feeling of sociability. He also keeps in mind the pleasures and pains of others. This social element is conscience internal sanction or external sanction. In the words of Mill, The internal sanction is a feeling for the happiness of mankind. Feeling of regard for the feelings and pains of other – the social feeling of mankind- the desire to be in unity with our fellow creations which it not innate and none theless natural.” Mill calls it feeling of pain attendant on-the violation of duty. It is the remorse of the inner self. The basis of utilitarianism is the feeling of sympathy and unhappiness because of violation of conscience. .

Supreme Ideal of Utilitarianism:

Mill tried to give Utilitarianism a comprehensive form by disproving by many arguments, the objections raised against it. The standard of utilitarianism is the maximum pleasure of the public. In the words of Mill, “As between his own happiness and that of other: Utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. In this way, Mill gives importance to self-control and detachment besides pleasure. Under the influences of the stoics, he even goes to the extent of saying that sometimes man sacrifices his own pleasure completely in order to assist others in their happiness. Thus adopting indifference towards pleasure he gets as much pleasure as possible.

Qualitative distinctions in pleasure:

Contrary to Bentham, Mill claimed that qualitative distinctions in pleasure are important. According to him, the desirability of a pleasure depends both on its quantity and quality. In the words of Mill, “It is quite compatible with the principle of unility to recognise the fact that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others. It would be absurd that while in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasure should be supposed to depend on quantity alone. Thus, in comparison with the un refined utilitarianism of Benthem, Mills theory of utilitarianism is considered refined. According to Mill, Pleasures have qualitative distinctions and qualitative differences are superior to the quantitative distinctions.

Measures of Qualities:

For the measurement of these qualities, Mill pointed to the judgements of able judges. To quote Mill, of two pleasures if there be one to which all who have experience of both, give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to perfect it; that is the desirable pleasure. Allow it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with and equally capable of appreciating and enjoining both do give a most marked preference to the manner for existence which employs their higher facilities. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures. Capable Judges always look upon intellectual pleasure as superior to physiological or sensual pleasure. The decision of capable Judges is the final decision. It cannot be contradicted. Their experience is comprehensive, it being there as on for the superiority of their judgement.

Sense of Dignity:

The standard of Judgement of these capable Judges is the human ‘sense of dignity’. This sense of dignity is natural to man. It is due to this sense of dignity that man does not accept becoming an animal even for the enjoyment of pleasure. As Mill would put it, “It is better to be a human, being dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. If the opinions of the fool and pig differ, it is only because they are aware only of their own aspects. Members of other groups are aware of both aspects. This sense of dignity is a sign on humanity, the voice of the human being’s self. Actions in harmony with human dignity are desirable and those discordant are undesirable. Pleasure is not for pleasure’s shake. Pleasure should agree with the reason of man and feeling of dignity. It this way, Mill sacrifices the sensual pleasures of Bentam.

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