John Stuart Mill


John Stuart Mill is said to be famous for two major ideas:

  • Utilitarianism
  • Radical feminism

Utilitarianism = the theory that actions are right if they are useful for the benefit of the majority (society).

So Mill basically proposed that the basis of actions should be the amount of happiness they bring, because a better society is one with more happy people. He even made his assumption into an equation and said:

(sum of happy people – sum of unhappy people) * number of citizens = successful or unsuccessful society (in terms of happiness)

But what is happiness really? What is and who is the best judge and criteria to judge happiness?

His theories of justice, although quite obvious today, but had been bold statements in his own time. He suggested that justice and legality are two different concepts, and one necessarily does not lead to the other. Same is true about justice and expediency. But what is important in all these and the criteria to judge good and bad in these concepts is the extent to which they fulfil individual interest and individual liberty.

But isn’t that contradictory in itself? Is individual liberty really possible in a collective society?

Here is a summary list of Mill’s major theories (my notes from the podcast called “Foundations of Modern Social Theory”):

  • Utilitarianism (defined above)
  • Actions are right if they end in happiness, because human beings are created to seek pleasure and avoid pain;
  • Two forces of nature on humans : pleasure, pain;
  • Expediency cannot justify intervention against individual liberty (expediency = justifying improper things as proper because they are more convenient);
  • Justice and legality are different, justice is a broader term: “justice is required by law and reinforced by moral consideration.”;
  • Freedom of expression is crucial;
  • Tyranny of the majority –> one of the problems of mass-democratic societies, meaning that the “tyranny of prevailing opinion … and tendency of the society to impose … its own ideas and practices … on those who dissent from them.” (On Liberty, 73)

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