John Stuart Mill
Review and Analysis of John Stuart Mill’s Essay on Liberty
One of the most challenging dilemmas for humankind to overcome is the concept of liberty. The boundaries as to the extent of a given person’s thoughts, expressions and actions before being halted has been debated for millennia. When it comes to viewpoints and actions, how far is too far? And who declares this extent? How can it be decided that one set of people can define for the rest, the limits of their beliefs and how freely they can express themselves?
Modern political philosopher John Stuart Mill attempts to provide an answer to this challenging question in his essay entitled On Liberty. Throughout his disquisition, Mill defends his opinions regarding basic human rights, liberalism and utilitarianism. The following piece will be a thorough amalgamation of Mill’s summarized beliefs and intermittent critiques. Although Mill puts forth thought-provoking concepts, certain specificities in his argument were overlooked, and his work lacked full justification, rendering the piece untenable.In the first segment of Mill’s monograph he explores the concept of society exerting power over an individual and the history of power itself. Although this concept is far from new he explains its prevalence in the developing world, as humans progress to a more and more civilized state. In previous times, liberty had “meant protection against the tyranny of political rulers”.
Specifically, in Ancient Greece, Rome and England, authority was inherited or derived by conquest, and oftentimes used against their own subjects, let alone external enemies. As time advanced, people came to realize that those who possess power in both the political and social realm use it against those who don’t. Mill brings forth the concept of the tyranny of majority, and how social tyranny is oftentimes more intimidating than political oppression, as it “prevents the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways”. It is here that he introduces his argument that individuals should have the right of liberty over themselves, regardless if others believe their opinion is “foolish, perverse or wrong”. Continuing that coercion by others should only occur when an individual poses a threat to another.
Mill then expresses his stance that the right of liberty should not apply to children, people of certain races, or what he refers to as “backward states of society”. He claims these groups should submit to “implicit obedience…” by a ruler “…if they are so fortunate as to find one” until they are capable of exercising their liberty. The exception to his stance is what I believe to be a major flaw in his argument. How is one group able to decide whether or not another group is capable of their basic rights to free thought and actions? To fully comprehend where this strong opinion originates, the reader must acknowledge the fact that Mill was a British male existing in the nineteenth century. During this era, the British Empire was actively occupying and holding sovereignty over the people of India. For years of his own life Mill took on the role of a colonial administrator at the East India Company (EIC), which seized control over a wide-span area of India. He was clearly born into the idea that the people of India belonged to this exception; he believed they were not deserving of their own liberty. Despite India thriving long before Britain, it was much less capitalistic and industrialized. According to himself and the other participants of the EIC, bringing trade to India was an improvement. In reality, he had justified colonialism and capitalism; invading the Indian subcontinent and using power against them, in order to build a society following Britain’s ideals for success.
Because Mill genuinely believed the EIC was aiding in the development of India, rather than tyrannically infringing upon the rights of Indians to their own land, his actions stay true to his thesis. In his perspective, he was indeed helping rather than harming. Later in his piece, Mill touches on the concept of a person’s ability to express his opinion. Mill believes any civilized person should always have the ability to express their viewpoints on subject matter freely, and without scolding or retribution. Even if a single man held an opinion the rest disagreed with, mankind would never be justified to silence him. Mill corroborates this by declaring any idea has the potential to be true. If an idea, later found to be true, is silenced because the majority of people believe otherwise, all people “lose … the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”. He continues that humans are capable of correcting their mistakes through experience and discussion. A truth can only be a truth if it is capable of withstanding criticism and alternate opinions. One of the faults of human nature is the assumption of infallibility regarding commonly accepted truths. If one person is to argue against that opinion, he faces the beratement of others. Mill provides the executions of Jesus Christ and Socrates as examples. In both these renowned cases, the personages were put to death for blasphemy for thoughts too radical for the times in which they belonged.Mill proceeds to express that truth could be justifiably persecuted if unconventional. On the contrary, he explains how unfortunate and unfair it is that the theorist suffers mistreatment. Even if the truth has been silenced by the suppressors, it typically re-emerges over time. There is no method to fully extinguish a true opinion. However, if a truth is approved by all, it will become what he refers to as “dead dogma, not a living truth”. Essentially, if nobody argues or fights against a truth, it begins to lose its power. The public will gradually hold such a truth as a prejudice; as a result, the truth will lose validity. In his work, Mill appears to only acknowledge conflicting opinions based on similar rudimentary presumptions. He considers only the disagreement amongst a subset of humankind, rather than humanity as a whole. Radically different civilizations, with varying climates, history and languages will naturally conflict with ideals and standards of beliefs. Conversations regarding these varying opinions are what I deduce to be implausible. Ignoring an obvious language barrier, people of differing belief systems would not be able to sustain a debate, or even make their opinions understood by the other. Both groups may be correct about a concept in their own respects given the scenario in which case it applies. As a general example, if equatorial people and polar people debated over which apparel was most suitable to be worn daily, they would not come to a common conclusion. Rather, two drastically different opinions would be provided, each appropriate for the groups’ living situations.
I believe Mill has overlooked this concept of fundamentally varying scenarios, and their impact on the correctness of an opinion.The concept of partial truths is then brought forth into Mill’s composition. Rather than a new truthful idea replacing an old wrong one, the truth typically lies in between them. Oftentimes one idea may be correct in one sense, and another idea correct in another sense; the act of comparing and combining the partial truths leads the beholders towards the most accurate understanding. Thus far Mill has completed his analysis the liberty of free speech. Moving forward he chimes in on a person’s ability to act upon their opinions. Similar to his outlook on freedom of speech, he believes people should be able to act as they please, “so long as it is at their own risk and peril”. This being said, actions should be more limited than opinions. Mill stresses the importance of freedom of will; he highlights the criticality of making educated and informed decisions, rather than merely following customs. Mill states, “when something ceases to have individuality it ceases to develop further”. Forcing conformity upon society prevents people from learning from one another. He speaks of China becoming stationary due to the suppression of individuality, claiming the country can now only be improved by foreigners. Mill worries that Europe is progressing towards the Chinese ideal of making all people alike, weaning out uniqueness. If conformity is only challenged when “life is nearly reduced to one uniform type, all deviations from that type will come to be considered…contrary to nature”. Mill’s thought here, regarding the threat of enforced assimilation was the longer a group is unaccustomed to see diversity, the less capable mankind is to conceive it.
As a final topic in his disquisition, Mill tackles the challenge to delineate the borders between sovereignty of the individual and authority of society. He believes “to individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part in which chiefly interests society”. He believes that each should acknowledge a line of conduct towards the other. Mill yet again claims society should have jurisdiction over individuality once a person’s demeanour affects the interests of others.
I found this recurrent opinion far too vague to maintain any sense of validity. Mill expresses on numerous occasions that an individual should have a right to their own opinions, speech and actions up until they pose a threat to others. One critical factor he repeatedly fails to convey is the definition of harm itself. Harm can be defined as deliberately inflicting injury, but how is injury then defined? Being damaged? But how then is damaged defined? These synonymous terms are a continuous cycle of ambiguity. For argument’s sake, let’s take into account a popularly accepted definition, that to harm is to deliberately cause someone to be worse off than they otherwise would have been. This now leads way to controversial topics such as doctor-assisted death. If a critically ill patient requests to put an end to their life via euthanasia, according to the aforementioned definition, a doctor would not be harming the patient by any means; the outcome of the person would in no way be impacted. If this is so, why was euthanasia in Canada not legal until 2016? Certain concepts, such as the term ‘harm’ are too abstract and contentious to use as a viable argument for or against a point of view. This is a key reason I believe Mill’s argument to be insufficiently supported. He spends far too much time referring to his harm principle, without analysing the notion in full.
However, that is not to say I disagree with all components of his thesis. Mill was not wrong when he explores the necessity for innovative and eccentric thoughts in order to advance a society as a whole. If a society infringed upon a community’s rights to free thought, speech and action, society would not only be silencing those of radical and extremist opinions, but also preventing the rectification of truth. The truth requires to be challenged, as it is only truly true if it can withstand criticism. I believe Mill is warranted to stresses the critical importance of liberty in regards to its ability to clear perception and liven impressions of truth. In its entirety, Mill’s circumlocutory essay had intriguing arguments and opinions, however it seems as though he did not express enough. Considering the essay was lengthy enough to be published as a book, he lacks total justification and insight on the points he is attempting to prove. It is for the lack of support on his thesis – rather than the concepts covered – that I believe his essay is untenable. This is not to discredit Mill’s impact on the modern world, as he has influenced and help shape the very nature of present-day democracy. Ultimately, the challenging concept of liberty remains unresolved, as it likely will for time to come.
Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill’s: a Study of How
The Connection Between Justice and Utility
In John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, there is an evident stress between the concept of justice and the concept of utility. The connection between the two is proved by Mill at the end of of his philosophical text where he explains that overall, justice is necessary for utility.
Mill begins his explanation by introducing five key obligations of justice. First off, it is unjust for people to be deprived of their personal liberty, property, and other legal rights which all of humanity is born with. Next, it is only just that people are also given moral rights and unjust for those to be deprived of them as well. Mill states that justice is a very simple concept in which that is people who perform good acts will receive good, while those who perform bad will receive bad. In this way, Mill has justice as a clear cut concept. Also, it is unjust to “break faith” with others (45), such as failing to follow the expectations of society. Finally, Mill also creates a concept of equal law, in which being “partial” (45) is inherently unfair as everyone must be treated with the same standard of judgement. Mill believes that these concepts of justice are all necessary for a functioning society.
By saying that justice is necessary for a functioning and harmonious society, it proves that in order for there to be utility, there must be conformity to law. When laws are broken, there has been a violation of a moral right. And when someone does something that is morally wrong, they must be punished for it because people must always get what they deserve in adherence to Mill’s definition of Justice. Although, Mill does not believe that everyone has a right to generosity or kindness because people are not morally obligated to be generous or kind. People are only obligated to do what is necessary to be a good person, and they do not have to exceed this expectation. As long as one does not do anything bad, they are good. Overall, Mill proves that morality and justice go hand and hand especially with regards to utility.
Further, Mill discusses how conducting punishment is a natural response for people who have been wronged or have heard of unjust behavior taking place. People desire to punish people who have hurt them as a means of self-defense, but people also desire to punish people who they have seen hurt others due to sympathetic feelings. Mill believes that there is no necessary moral value in this response unless it will generally promote happiness rather than simply fulfill one’s personal need for justice. Mill also explains that some people think punishment is only valid when it is done to benefit the person being punished, others believe punishment is only valid when it is done to benefit the people of society, and the rest believe that punishment is always unjust. In addition, some people think that punishments should be given based on how serious of a crime was committed, while others say that enough punishment should be given so that the person will not commit any future crimes either. Regardless of what people believe about punishment, a human’s legal and moral rights must never be violated when deciding one’s consequences. Mill believes that the only way to determine what one’s rights truly are is through utility. Whichever rights promote general happiness, are the rights that overall promote utility in society.
Mill also explains that justice is never independent from utility especially in regards to morality. What is just is based off of what is useful towards the general happiness of society. Basically, people may never hurt one another nor violate one’s freedom without proper intentions and punishment must always be based on utility in order for it to be moral. Mill ultimately concludes that the concept of justice always takes utility into consideration. What is just is equal, deserving, and fair to others. In order for people to receive good or bad, it must be in regards to utility. Utility is based on what will promote the general welfare of society as a whole. And in order for there to be justice, there must be utility.
Mill’s argument is rather convincing, though of course there are flaws with his reasoning. Mill has absolute arguments when discussing concepts of justice and law, ones that may seem convincing but lack a compassionate basis. When discussing justice, Mill creates a concept that is black and white with little room for human error. His conceptualization of if a person does good then they deserve good things leaves very little room for human motive such as one found in the Heinz Dilemma. What about someone who does something bad for a good reason? The traditional anti-hero? Mill’s scale of justice leaves no room for the partiality that comes with the obligation to human emotion. While Mill offers a good theme of “justice is, and should be, blind” he does not allow for extenuating circumstances which makes his overall theory well written, but not comprehensive for the real world.
Women Discrimination as Depicted in John Stuart Mill Essay the Subjection of Women
On the Subjection of Women – Critical Analysis
The Subjection of Women was written in 1860-1861 by the author John Stuart Mill. It first appeared publicly in a pamphlet in the year 1869. Mill was apart of the British Parliament, there he noticed several inequalities faced by woman. Which not only prompted this article, but also led to his involvement in presenting the petition for women’s suffrage and he also sponsored the “Married Woman’s Property Bill”. Mill’s was considered at the time to be a devout liberalist, feminist, and committed deeply to restoring women’s equality within the society. Mill’s was considered a radical at such time, because more men were in aggrievance that women had certain roles and should be inequal in some settings (enotes,2018). Women, throughout history have been considered the weaker of the sexes, however, no testing was allowed during the time of Mill’s, and he therefore new laws must be enacted that preaches equality for all.
On the Subjection of Women Mill’s splits up his ideas into four individual chapters. On the first chapter, Mill’s comprises the layouts of his ideas explicitly for audiences. His biggest theme throughout this chapter is to explain how historically it is unjustifiable to offer some rights to one group (men), while the other group (women) are not granted the same rights. This is based solely on one’s biological composition. Such ideas are apparent to audiences quite early on in the article. When Mill’s stated: “The principle that regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—the legal subordination of one sex to the other—is wrong itself and is now one of the chief obstacles to human improvement; and it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality that doesn’t allow any power or privilege on one side or disability on the other” (Mills, page 1103, 1861). We can see here, reason to believe that Mill’s is unaccepting of the current practices of women’s lowered statuses in society and that he certainly wants changes to be made as soon as possible.
A wonderful analogy is also represented in order to get his points across. He stated instances of African American slaves were highly relatable to the current treatment of women. Such points really made me understand how women were unequal in various aspects during these times. It was not only that they could not make decisions for their families, but they also could not vote or even own things. Nonetheless, Mill’s backs up this analogy by stating how at first slaves were compelled to obey non-bindingly, however, after this was met, they then became legally bound to obey. If orders were not met, several legal courses of actions could take way over the enslaved individuals. Mill’s explains in this argument, that slavery use to be governed solely by the master-to-slave relationship. If problems arose the master and slave would work it out, however, after legality came into play, governments would step into such situations and this is when more problems surfaced (Mill, 1861).
Such courses of action could certainly be drawn to women of this time as well, as Mill tries to explain in this analogy. And for what reason, just because one was born a female. Just as Mill’s I believe it is highly unjustifiable to treat someone differently because a choice they were unable to make. African Americans did not choose to be black, and women did not have any say as to which gender they would be born, therefore, neither groups deserve to have a lowered role in society at all. Mill’s also makes the rational argument of slavery when he stated that no one really questioned the morality of such, which is exactly what he was doing at the time. He was amongst the first to see an issue with women’s equality during this time, if not, these women could certainly be in similar situations as African Americans (Mill, 1861). However, in some ways, these women were very much like slaves already. Certainly, some different did conclude, however, these women weren’t granted much freedom at all. What I mean by this is that they had little say in any family affairs and were expected to cook and clean for their husbands. Such thinking as this, almost creates a slavery type imagery in my head. Although the author is writing about times in the 1860’s, such ideas were not conceptualized till near 60 years later. What I mean by this is that although the author tries to convince individuals that women are unequal to men in numerous faucets, men did not find value in such ideas until several years following. If this does not show, even in the slightest degree enslavement, then I don’t know what it will take to convince you. Enslavement doesn’t necessarily mean that women were beaten and placed into cotton fields, however enslavement defines the traditional views of men had on women and their equality next to them.
It was not until 1920 that women would be granted the right to vote. This battle, which began with Mill’s in my opinion was not settled until 60 years later. Such discrepancies reveal that men were not ready to allow women to make such choices for society. A type of thinking that reveals, that men did not have faith in the feelings or choices that women had to offer to society. Although many individuals claim that women were considered equal after this right was given to them, sadly they are wrong. It was not until 1973, that women had equal rights to their own bodies, and had the decision to even terminate a pregnancy (Johnson,2013).
Women, even in today’s society are not treated equally, a right that Mill’s tried effectively to change. Even in the year 2013, most women will not receive maternity leave or even be paid the same wages as men (Johnson,2013). Mill’s fought long and hard to showcase why such issues are present and how they are unjust, however, even in modern times we are facing such inequalities, just in different areas. It will take men finally realizing that women are their equal counterpart for such changes to subdue.
Mill’s Utilitarianism Theory and Kant’s Theory of Deontology
The idea that actions/consequences are morally right only if and because they produce the greatest good was created by a man named John Stuart Mill. This ethical theory is called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism since it does not judge the actions of people based on intentions. It is a way of looking at morality. Instead of looking at what actions are right versus what actions are wrong, utilitarianism looks at the results. For example, parents often tell their kids it is not okay to lie or cheat. From a utilitarianism’s point of view, a parent will look at the actions and then determine right from wrong based on what results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In other words, an action in and of itself has no intrinsic value (neither right nor wrong). It is only right or wrong in its affect. While other elements of Mill’s philosophy may have faded away, utilitarianism is still touched as one of the three major ethical positions with Kant’s Deontology.
Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who tried to wrap his head around the fact how human beings can be good and kind outside of traditional religions. He was a pessimist about human character and believed individuals by nature intensely prone to corruption. The PHILOSOPHY: Immanuel Kant video said this led him to argue although historical religions had all been wrong in a content of what they believed, they had latched on to a great need to promote ethical behavior. It was in this context, Kant came up with the idea of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative states, act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Kant argues that the categorical imperative is the rule our own intelligence gives us.
A British philosopher came up with a thought experiment that involved two scenarios. In the first rescue story, some people must drive quickly to save the lives of five other people (who are nearly threated by an ocean tide). Another person needs assistance from a different disaster. However, there is no time to waste. As a result, the person driving must leave the single person to die in order to save the lives of the group of five. In the second rescue story, again some people must drive quickly to save the lives of five other people. This time, the path to drive is narrow and rocky. Along the path is an injured man. If the rescuers stop to save the lone individual, they will not reach the other five in time. The party of five will have drowned and died. In order to save the party if five, the rescuers would have to drive over the individual in the path. But they cannot do that. It sounds like the first scenario would be morally acceptable since no one would be held responsible for the man’s death. Many would argue the second scenario is not morally acceptable since one would have driven over the man and be held responsible for his death.
According to Mill’s theory of utilitarianism, he would tell the rescuer in Rescue I to leave the lone individual to die and save the five persons. He would also tell the rescuers in Rescue II to driver over the single guy and save the group of five from drowning. Based off his theory, saving the group of five from drowning would maximize happiness. Likewise, saving the group of five results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The Principle of Utility states that actions or behaviors are right in so far as they promote happiness or pleasure, wrong as they tend to produce unhappiness or pain. We should condemn an action if it does the opposite. An action is said to have positive utility when it augments happiness more than it diminishes it.
According to Kant’s deontological theory, he would tell the rescuer in Rescue I to save the people from drowning. The moral agent is stuck with a dilemma and must have proper motive and act according to moral law. By sacrificing one life, Kant can save five lives. However, he would tell the rescuer in Rescue II to help the individual needing assistance in the path. And this would result in the party of five drowning. Kant believes it would not be morally acceptable if he himself took the life of the individual by driving over him. “I can save five lives by killing one” would be the maxim. He says, “Act only on those maxims that you can will everyone else to follow at the same time.” Basically, one should not make special rules one would not want others to follow. The second version of the categorical imperative says, “To act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and not as a means.” In others words, one should treat all persons including oneself as having inherent value and not to use people. The second version relates to Rescue II because everyone in the thought experiment needs to be treated with inherent value. Kant suggests one should not treat someone as a “mere means” because then it eliminates one’s ability to make rational decisions.
One criticism of Mill was that is perspective solely focuses on the consequences rather than taking it to affect the individual parties involved. For the sake of the greater good, he would not care to be responsible of the man in the path’s death in order to save the five lives. In my opinion, I find it unkind that he would disregard the individual person’s rights, and think their overall value less than the other five lives. One criticism of Kant is that he did not differentiae between knowledge of thoughts from knowledge of objects.
In my opinion, both Mill’s utilitarianism theory and Kant’s theory of deontology can be superior depending on the situation. In regards to Mill, there are situations where sometimes quantity overrules. I believe the lives of all are valuable but generally speaking, the loss of one life sounds better than the loss of five lives. In regards to Kant, the reason why we find ourselves doing the right thing is because it is the right thing to do. How one was raised plays a big role in what is morally right versus what is wrong. I believe the lives of all are valuable.