Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Trent Dillihay Final Project Post 3: John Stuart Mill
Mill’s Views on Women’s Rights and Religion
Post 1 link: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2015/11/trent-dillihay-11-final-project-post-1.html
Post 2 link: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2015/12/trent-dillihay-final-project-post-2.html
Of all of Mill’s political beliefs, perhaps none were as progressive or controversial as his stance on women’s rights. During Mill’s lifetime, women had very few rights and advocating expanding them was highly unpopular in some political and social circles. Nonetheless, Mill had some strong views on the subject, which he made clear in a book called The Subjection of Women, which he published in 1869. In the book, Mill expressed his view that the relationship between men and women in his day, particularly in how men had far more political power and legal rights, as being “… the legal subordination of one sex to the other…”. In Mill’s view, this system was inherently wrong, as it severely limited the opportunities women had and violated the principle of utility by depriving them of their chance at further human development. Mill also thought that this, in turn, would lead to a negative effect on their families. Mill also attacked the idea that women were inherently inferior to men in certain respects and would never be able to achieve genuine equality; Mill believed that the social environment of his day, and the male-dominated status quo, was the primary and perhaps only cause of any perceived inferiorities. Mill believed that outdated, long-standing customs and prejudices people followed were significantly holding back human progress, especially in the area of women’s rights, and that these ideas needed to be discarded to allow society to progress. Ironically, Mill himself was not immune to this effect, as he never seriously considered the idea of a woman (particularly a married one) having a job or career outside her home. Mill did, however, support equal opportunities for education for women; part of this revolves around his view that some women of his time were likely not aware of the need for women’s rights due to societal conditioning and near-total lack of access to education that would allow them to improve themselves and drive them to do so. Mill was also a serious supporter of women’s suffrage. Unlike some previous philosophers, including Mill’s own father, who thought that the man of the house was adequate to represent the interests of his wife and family, Mill recognized that women could have differing views and interests from their husbands, and felt that they needed the right to advocate these for themselves in a democratic society.
Mill also had some unique views on religion which were so controversial that he purposely delayed publishing them in his Three Essays on Religion until after his death, for fear the controversy would turn people away from him and weaken his other work. Mill did not believe in a God in the sense that the Christianity of his day did, and was certainly an agnostic at most. Mill thought the idea of an all-powerful and purely good deity was impossible, citing the amount of clear evil and suffering in the world as a form of proof. To Mill, any form of pure good in the universe could not be omnipotent, or vice versa, or this evil would not exist. He also thought the idea of a god and even of religion was so powerful and enduring because it filled a need for a transcendent good that people wanted. Mill argued that this role did not necessarily need to be filled by any deity or supernatural thing, but could be done by humanity focusing on developing itself and actively combating evil and suffering. Mill also thought that religion may have served some form of utilitarian role in the past by providing a moral code that may have assisted human development. However, he also thought that this effect was likely no longer necessary or beneficial, and could in fact be detrimental to humanity. Mill argued that there is no evidence to support or deny the possibility of an afterlife, although he seems not to have believed in one himself. Finally, however, he does acknowledge one power and benefit that belief in an afterlife, and religion in general, has: the ability to inspire hope. Mill firmly believed that hope was a powerful good in powering the development of humanity, and for all his seeming disdain of traditional religion, he did acknowledge that it could be a potential force for good.
A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton