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John Stuart Mill


John Stuart Mill, also known as J. S. Mill was a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant who lived from 20 May,1806 to 7 May,1873. He was a major contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy. Stuart Mill was widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism. Mill's concept of liberty, which has been dubbed "the most influential British philosopher of the 19th century", justified individual liberty as opposed to unlimited government and social control. Mill advocated utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by his forefather, Jeremy Bentham. J. S. Mill was a member of the Liberal Party and the second Member of Parliament after Henry Hunt in 1832 to call for women's suffrage.

Utilitarianism according to Mill

Mill believed that happiness (or pleasure, which Bentham and Mill both equated with happiness) was the only thing humans do & should desire for its own sake. Because happiness is the only intrinsic good, and more happiness is preferable to less, the goal of ethical living is to maximise happiness. This is known as "the principle of utility" or "the greatest-happiness principle" by Bentham and Mill. As a result, Bentham and Mill both advocate "classical" or "hedonistic" utilitarianism. Utilitarians from more recent times frequently deny that happiness is the only intrinsic good, arguing that a variety of values & consequences should be taken into account when making ethical decisions.

Mill and Bentham's disagreement

Mill rejects Bentham's view that pleasures differ only in quantity, not quality, in response to the dogma that utilitarianism is a doctrine fit only for pigs. He observes that most people who have had both physical and intellectual pleasures prefer the latter. Mill attempted to develop a more refined form of utilitarianism that would be more compatible with ordinary morality and emphasise the importance of intellectual pleasures, self-development, high ideals of character, and conventional moral rules in ethical life. Mill observes that there has been no progress in ethics, that the same issues have been debated over and over, and that philosophers continue to disagree sharply on the fundamental starting points of ethics.
Mill contends that these philosophical debates have not seriously harmed popular morality, because conventional morality is large, albeit implicitly, utilitarian. Mill develops a single ethical principle, the principle of utility or greatest happiness, from which he claims all utilitarian ethical principles "The creed that accepts utility as the foundation of morals, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are correct in proportion to their consequences". To how they tend to promote happiness, and wrong in proportion to how they tend to produce the opposite of happiness. Happiness implies pleasure and the absence of pain; unhappiness implies pain and the deprivation of pleasure".

Mill's perspective on women's rights

Mill defined history as "the lawful subordination with one sex to another" to the other [which] is wrong in and of itself" & now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; & that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality" up until his time. As a result, Mill can be considered one of the first male proponents of gender equality. He attempts to make a case for perfect equality in The Subjection of Women. He discusses the role of women in marriage and how it needs to change. Mill comments on three major aspects of women's lives that he believes are impeding them:
    • society and gender construction
    • education
    • marriage.
    He contended that women's oppression was one of the few relics of ancient times, a set of prejudices that severely hampered humanity's progress. As a member of Parliament, Mill proposed an unsuccessful amendment to the Reform Bill that would have substituted the word "person" for "man". Mills responded to several utilitarian concerns.

    These are some of the criticisms levelled at utilitarianism:

      • is a doctrine fit only for pigs (for holding that pleasure is the only thing that is desirable for its own sake)
      • fails to recognise that happiness is out of reach
      • is overly demanding (for claiming that we always must create the greatest possible happiness in the world)
      • makes people cold and unfeeling (by focusing solely on the consequences of actions, rather than on features such as motives & character, which require a more sensitive response)
      • is godless ethics (in that it fails to recognise that ethics is rooted in God's will or instructions).
      • conflates goodness with expediency
      • fails to recognise that when making ethical decisions, there is usually insufficient time to consider future consequences
      • Mills tries to persuade people to break common moral rules (by inviting them to ignore such rules when they appear to conflict with the general happiness)

      Mill, John Stuart Principle of Harm

      According to the harm principle, the only actions that can be avoided are those which cause harm. In other words, a person is free to do whatever he wants as long as he does not harm others. If a person's actions only affect him, society, including the government, should not be able to prevent him from doing what he wants. This includes actions that a person may take that are harmful to the person.

      Relevance in today's India

        • It restricts liberty, as in the case of fundamental rights, where the state imposes reasonable restrictions.
        • Promotes societal harmony: Because of ethnic violence in various parts of the country, such as Manipur, the harm principle becomes relevant.
        • The harm principle is concerned with positive freedom, in which everyone has equal rights.
        • It seeks to avoid religious conflicts

    Opinions of John Mill

      • There should be restrictions on freedom A person can do anything unless it causes harm to society
      • Mill contends that no person is truly isolated and that most actions have a significant impact on society
      • It distinguishes between harm & offence; harm is defined as causing serious injuries or jeopardising the specific people's interests

      Mill's defence of free expression

      Mill discusses the advantages of searching for and discovering the truth' as a means of broadening one's knowledge. He contended that even if an opinion is incorrect, understanding the truth can be improved by refuting the error. And, because most opinions are neither completely true nor completely false, he argues that allowing free expression allows for the airing of opposing viewpoints as a means of preserving partial truth in various opinions. Concerned about the suppression of minority views, Mill argued in favour of free speech on political grounds, stating that it is a necessary component for a representative government to have to empower debate over public policy. Mill also argued persuasively that freedom of expression promotes personal growth and self-realization. He stated that freedom of expression is essential for developing talents and realising one's potential and creativity. He frequently stated that eccentricity was preferable to monotony and stagnation.

      The High Priests of Liberalism

        • Many religions formally commission classes of people with specific duties: rabbis, ministers, priests, theologians, and so on. One such faith, according to Cowling, was Mill's liberalism. It demanded and justified its own "clerisy", as Cowling put it.
        • According to Cowling, the duty of Mill's "intellectual elite" is to provide "a systematic indoctrination to free men from the habitual arbitrariness that prevents them from seeing their social duties for what they are". This conviction elevates such individuals to the status of social engineers.
        • According to Mill, educators should not "take a side and fight vehemently for someone against the rest". Educators, on the other side, should "advise [students] toward the establishment and maintenance of the rules". Of conduct most beneficial to mankind" This appears to be support for Mill's utilitarian rule.
        • In his 1836 essay "Civilization", Mill argued that knowledge advancement required "completely abolishing sectarian teaching". The principle of dogmatic religion, dogmatic morality, and dogmatic philosophy itself must be eradicated, not any particular manifestation of that principle".

        John S.Mill's Contribution to Western Political Thought

        John Stuart Mill is well-known in the field of political theory development. He was regarded as the nineteenth century's most persuasive political philosopher. Liberalism shifted from laissez-faire to an active role for the state, from a negative to a positive form of liberty, and from an atomistic to a more social conception of individuality in his political theory. Mill was a liberal, but he was also a Democrat, a pluralist, a supportive socialist, and a feminist.
        His philosophical roots were in John Locke's, George Berkeley's, and David Hume's British empiricism. However, he is best known for his further development of his teacher Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarian theory, which Mills promoted as a movement and of which he became the most well-known exponent and ally.
        Mill's political ideas were heavily influenced by Plato's discussions and dialectics, as well as Socrates' cross-questions. His studies of John Austin's Roman Law, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and Ricardo's Principles had all had an impact on his reasoning. He had subdued Bentham's principles from his father & Bentham himself, and he found utility principles to be the foundation of his dogmas. J.S. Mill was also greatly influenced by his wife, Mrs Taylor, whom he described as the "perfect personification of wisdom, intellect, and character". She had an emotional effect on Mill's character and gave him the sympathy he craved.
        J.S. Mill was a productive writer, as evidenced by his writing, and he wrote on various subdivisions of knowledge with equal mastery. Mill began writing for newspapers and periodicals when he was only 20 years old. His System of Logic (1843) attempted to explain a comprehensible political philosophy. The logic combined the British empiricist tradition of Locke and Hume of associational psychology with a model of social science based on Newtonian physics. His "Logical System" was a determined attempt to account for not only logic but also scientific methods and their applicability to social as well as purely natural phenomena. Mill's concept of logic encompassed not only formal logic but also a "logic of proof". This prompted him to investigate causation and, eventually, to develop an account of inductive logic that is still the beginning of most modern discussions of logic. The "System of Logic" also criticised the Intuitionist philosophy of William Whewell (1794 - 1866) & Sir William Hamilton (1788 - 1856), which he depicted as "bad philosophy".
        His 1848 book "Principles of Political Economy" illustrated that economics isn't the "dismal science" that Thomas Carlyle had depicted it to be (1795 - 1881) and its radical & literary critics had thought, & it became one of the most widely read economics books of the time, dominating economics teaching for decades. Mills early economic philosophy was generally one of the free markets with minimal government intervention, and the "Principles" is largely a highly proficient re-statement of Smith & Ricardo's classical capitalist economics theory. He contributed to the development of In trade, the concepts of economies of scale, opportunity cost, and comparative advantage are used.
        However, in the "Principles", Mill made the radical argument that we should sacrifice economic growth for the sake of the environment and that we should limit population as much to give ourselves breathing space as to avoid the risk of malnourishment for the overburdened poor, and he encouraged his ideal of a worker-owned cooperative economy.
        His 1861 work "Utilitarianism" was a magnificent defence of the utilitarian view that we should aim to maximise the welfare (or happiness) of all sentient creatures. His famous work Utilitarianism endorsed the Benthamite belief in greater happiness while departing significantly from Benthamite assumptions. It was written as an exposition and defence of the pleasure-pain philosophy applied to ethics, but he made so many changes that little of the original dogma remains. He envisioned that, contrary to what Bentham and his father had taught, human nature is capable of self-sacrifice.
        Nonetheless, he was zealous in his efforts to transform Utilitarianism into a more humanitarian principle. "Utilitarianism", according to Mill, is an ideology that regards a particular "theory of life" as the "foundation of morals". His view of life theory was monistic: there is only one thing that is fundamentally desirable, such as pleasure. In contrast to a type of hedonism that views pleasure as a homogeneous matter, Mill was convinced that certain types of pleasure are more valuable than others due to their inherent qualities. As a result, his point of view is often started referring to as "qualitative hedonism" According to many theorists, qualitative hedonism is not a consistent position. Hedonism asserts that the only intrinsic value is pleasure. According to the critics, there can be no measurement for the distinction between higher and lower pleasures under this assumption. This common objection was raised by British idealists such as F. H. Bradley and T. H. Green.
        Mill's disagreement with the qualitative separation of pleasures, his insistence that happiness should be measured by quality rather than quantity, and, more specifically, that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to more physical forms of pleasure, were among his major contributions to Utilitarianism. He also rejected Bentham's external standard of goodness in favour of something more subjective, arguing that unselfishness was just as important as self-interest in determining what should be done.
        Mill hypothesised that moral judgments presuppose rules early in the development of Utilitarianism's theoretical dogmas. Unlike Kant, who based his ethical theory on self-imposed rules known as maxims, Mill believed that morality is built on social rules. Others questioned what distinguishes social rules from moral rules. Mill's response is based on a thesis about how competent speakers use the phrase "morally correct" or "morally incorrect". He maintains that we identify an action as ethically questionable if we believe it should be sanctioned through formal punishment, public disapproval (external sanctions), or a bad conscience (internal sanctions). This is the crucial distinction between "morality and mere expediency". Wrong or inefficient actions are those that we cannot recommend to a person, such as self-harm. In contrast to immoral actions, inexpedient actions should not be sanctioned.
        Mill distinguishes between different types of action. In his famous work System of Logic, he identifies morality, prudence, and aesthetics as the three branches of the "Art of Life". The utility principle governs not only morality but also prudence and taste. It is a meta-principle of practical reason rather than a moral principle (Skorupski). His Essay on Liberty (1859) & The Subjection of Women (1869) were classic elaborations of liberal thought on critical issues such as law, rights, and liberty.