Chapter Nine of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Utility suggests that there are three elements essential to a moral system. There must be a moral community, a set of moral values, and a moral code. Just as philosophers have disagreed about the nature of happiness, so they have disagreed about each of these elements of morality. Are animals part of the moral community? Is the supreme moral value happiness? Does the code include absolute prohibitions? On the second and third issues, we disagree with Benthamite philosophy. We believe that there are some actions, such as rape and torture, which should be ruled out without consideration of consequences. Furthermore:
The pursuit of happiness is a right, not a compulsion or an obligation. We disagree with those who maintain that every human being, in every action, pursues his own well-being willy-nilly. We also disagree with those who believe that there is an obligation to pursue one’s own well-being that overrides all other considerations. We believe that it is possible, and may often be admirable, to cease from the quest for one’s own happiness in favour of the pursuit of some altruistic goal.
As to the shape of that moral community, an undifferentiated concern for the general good is implausible. At the same time, it is not clear how sensible it is to defined levels of obligation of care by civic and national boundaries, many of which are accidents of history.
Finally, at both the national and global level, there can be no simple recipe for the maximization of happiness because of its disparate elements. Indeed, such maximization is a chimerical goal for moral or political policy. But this does not mean that we cannot seek ever better systems of trade-offs to protect and promote the well-being of the inhabitants of the planet.