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UTILITARIANISM The Pursuit of Happiness The p

The phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," enshrined in the founding documents of the United States, was derived from John Locke. Locke's formulation, however, was "life, liberty, and property." In choosing the broader formulation "pursuit of happiness," the framers were certainly not drawing from John Stuart Mill, since they wrote many decades before he did. They were writing and thinking in the same philosophical tradition, which goes ultimately back to Aristotle. Mill, however, has given us in Utilitarianism the most concise, analytical interpretation of this concept.

What is meant by happiness, and what justifies regarding it as the goal either of a political system or of a system of ethical philosophy? In everyday usage, we use it most often in the sense of being pleased ("I'm happy you could come"), or of general well-being ("Happy Birthday!"). It has pleasant connotations, but not, in everyday usage, particularly lofty ones. One might expect moral philosophy, or even political philosophy and statecraft, to seek some more profound goal. Mill, however, constructs his approach to moral philosophy from the bottom up. He starts from the premise that we naturally seek out pleasant experiences, and try to avoid pain or unpleasant experiences. At first glance this might appear to be an invitation to mere hedonism, "eat, drink, and be merry." However, human experience shows that pleasant experiences are not limited to the material. We enjoy music, for example, and friendship, and seek these things out. Indeed, we often find satisfaction in experiences that might well be arduous and even unpleasant, such as running a marathon. Even the effort of living up to a system of values carries its satisfactions (7-8).

The sum total of these satisfactions and pleasures, or dissatisfactions and miseries, though the course of a lifetime constitutes our overall happiness or unhappiness (3-4). Happiness is theref...

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