Sunday, November 22, 2015
Trent Dillihay final project Fall 2015: John Stuart Mill post 1
Trent Dillihay (11): Final Project Post #1
John Stuart Mill: Mill’s Utilitarianism and a brief overview of his life.
Post 2 link: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2015/12/trent-dillihay-final-project-post-2.html
Post 3 link: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2015/12/trent-dillihay-final-project-post-3.html
John Stuart Mill, the man who would eventually become one of the most famous Utilitarians in history, was born on May 20, 1806. For much of his early childhood, Mill and his family lived in a state of relative financial insecurity, as his father James Mill would not achieve a truly stable financial independence until 1818. However, the Mill family was kept from poverty by the financial support of their longtime family friend and fellow Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, and James Mill wasted no time using this to advance his son’s education. John Stuart Mill was pressed hard by his father to learn as much as possible throughout his childhood, and while this tactic did develop him into a genius, it unfortunately also resulted in Mill having a mental breakdown at the age of 20. This “mental crisis”, as Mill would later refer to it, ultimately proved to be a turning point for him. In recovering from his breakdown, Mill used literature and poetry, as well as reading the works of various Romantic era writers and philosophers who had significant differences of opinion with the type Utilitarianism he had been taught throughout his entire life up to that point. The end result was that Mill decided that he needed something more in his philosophy than what his father and Jeremy Bentham had taught him; this idea would push him to develop his own unique brand of Utilitarianism that would earn him his fame as a philosopher.
Mill’s Utilitarianism was based on the ideas of previous philosophers like Bentham, but was different in important ways. Like previous incarnations of the philosophy, it was based on the idea of Utility, which says essentially that the basic good or evil of an action is whether or not that action leads to happiness or pain, and that moral actions are those that lead to the greatest amount of happiness and pleasure. Mill shared this basic view with other Utilitarians like Bentham, but had different views on what exactly constituted the best form of happiness. Unlike Bentham, Mill drew a line between different orders of pleasure based on their quality, with mentally or aesthetically stimulating things like poetry or art taking a higher precedence and being better than other forms of enjoyment. Mill also added a principle concerning individual liberty to the idea of Utility. This idea was first introduced in his book Utilitarianism; there Mill made the claim that Utilitarian thought had been focused too much on what it thought was the good of society, and had ignored individual freedom and the happiness of individual people too much in the process. He also thought that while an interest in the public good was important, it did not need to be our first concern; rather, it should be considered in most cases to the degree that we as individuals can be sure we are not infringing on the rights and happiness of others with our actions. This was an idea that Mill would build upon in what is arguably his most famous book, On Liberty, where he introduced one of his greatest additions to philosophy, known as the Harm Principle. The Harm Principle builds on Mill’s view of individual liberty and happiness by saying that a person should be free to act as they choose so long as those actions do not cause harm, specifically harm to others. Mill took a hardline stance against paternalism in government and society, saying that the goal of trying to protect someone from themselves, or doing something for a person’s own good, was in most cases a violation of their liberty. In Mill’s view, following this principle and allowing people to act as they choose was one of the ultimate ways of promoting Utility and the development of humankind in general. This was the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill, which served as the basic philosophical ideology upon which he based almost all of his other views on the world. In later installments, I will discuss these other views and how they were influenced by Utilitarianism. The second post will concern Mill’s political views, and the third will concern Mill’s views on women’s rights and on religion.
A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton