11: John Stuart Mill



Key Terms


  • Read and analyze descriptions of philosophical thought
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the pursuit of a just society and Utilitarianism
  • Demonstrate an ability to discuss and reflect upon the application of the course material to various aspects of life.
  • Evaluate the personal and social responsibilities of living in a diverse world.

I. Who is John Stuart Mill?

  • Father: James Mill, active member of the Philosophical Radicals
  • Extensive education by father
  • No formal schooling
  • Wrote books around the same time he was a Member of Parliament
  • On Liberty (1859), Utilitarianism (1863), The Subjection of Women (1869) 
  • Liberal thinker

II. The Ethical Revolution

  • A. A Series of Revolutions
    • American Revolution
    • French Revolution
    • Deocracy
    • Industrial Revolution
    • American Civil War
  • B. Bentham on Utilitarianism
    • Morality should be about making the world happy
    • Single moral principle, utility, in producing happiness
    • The Principle of Utility
    • To live ethically
      • Use reason to determine what is right
      • Determine ethical truth by considering the results of our actions
  • C. How is Utilitarianism revolutionary?
    • Divine Command Theory – obedience to God
      • One doesn’t have to base rules on those handed down by a deity thousands of years ago.
    • Natural Law Theory – use of reason to understand God’s laws
      • Reason in this theory still connects to the divine law of God, and utilitarianism doesn’t require belief in a deity to function.

III. Mill on Ethics

John Stuart Mill

The creed which accepts...the Greatest Happiness Principle… holds that actions are right...as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

  • A. Basic Argument
    • Utilitarianism promotes happiness
    • Actions should be chosen based on what makes the most people happy and the fewest people unhappy
    • Hedonism - humans are governed by pleasure and pain
    • The purpose of human life is to enjoy that life
  • B. Types of Utilitarianism
    • Broad concept called Consequentialism
    • Machiavellianism
    • Ethical Egoism
    • Rule Consequentialism
    • Negative Consequentialism
    • Utilitarianism requires happiness as an end product for the most number of people
  • C. Objections to Utilitarianism
    • Impossible to predict the future with certainty
    • Incompatible with justice
    • Incompatible with human rights
    • Irrelevance of the past

IV. Eighteenth Century Thought on Liberty

  • A. John Locke
    • English physician
    • Enlightenment Thinker
    • Life, liberty, property
  • B. Thomas Paine
    • American colonist
    • Common Sense
    • Argued for equality and liberty among men
  • C. Jeremy Bentham
    • English barrister
    • Founded the Philosophical Radicals
    • Utilitarianism
    • Actions judged by results
    • Actions that lead to happiness are better

V. Mill on Liberty


Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign

  • A. Personal Liberty
    • Defense of the liberty of the individual with regard to the state’s authority
    • The state should be restricted when it comes to the freedom of individuals
    • Especially applies to democracies to prevent them from becoming a “tyranny of the majority”
    • Minority opinions should be permitted
    • Truth is strengthened by open debate
  • B. Role of the Government
    • Restricted
    • Government intervention is only appropriate if an individual’s actions harm another individual
    • Personal liberty from compulsion, not debate
  • C. Justifying Personal Liberty and Limited Government
    • Utilitarianism
    • Liberty applied to every adult
    • Freedom from harm is a basic right of humanity


The burden of proof should be on those who want to limit liberty, not on those who want more liberty

VI. Mill on Equal Rights

  • Universal rights of man applied to women
  • Equal liberty at birth is restricted
  • The law should be impartial
  • Tradition is not enough to justify inequality
  • Examine where the tradition came from to refute it

VII. Mill on Justice

  • Five meanings of justice
    1. Not depriving someone of personal liberty, property, possessions
    2. Not disobeying the laws of society
    3. Receiving good or evil as deserved
    4. Honoring agreements and telling the truth
    5. Acting impartially and treating others equally

Logic Week 11: Argument from Authority & Argument from Tradition