Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill

INTRODUCTION

John Stuart Mill was a 19th century English Philosopher. He was born in 1806. He was the student of Jeremy Bentham. His father james mill and Bentham had a great influence on J.S Mill in his childhood. He was home schooled by his father James Mill. He learnt Greek at the age of 4 and Latin at the age of 7. He got a job in East India Company when he was 17 years old. In addition, he meets a young lady, Harlet Taylor, at the age of 24. He marries her after 20 years of long friendship. Harlet Taylor had a huge influence on J.S Mill.

Following are the important books and works of J.S Mill;

  • Elements of Political Economy (1820)
  • System of Logic (1843)
  • On Liberty (1859)
  • The Consideration on Representative Government (1861)
  • Utilitarianism (1863)
  • The Subjection of Women (1869)

J.S Mill’s Theory of Utilitarianism

Mill accepts the basic claim of Utilitarianism that the action which produces pleasure and avoids pain is morally good. He says, “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain.” He also says that it is the consequence of the action that decides whether an action is right or wrong. Mill rejects Bentham’s claim that all pleasures are quantitatively equal. He says that pleasures are different qualitatively.

According to Mill, poetry is better than pushpin. “It is better to be human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. It is better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

There is the greatest happiness principle. Mill defines happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain, and he defines unhappiness as pain and the absence of pleasure.

He says that utility cannot be measured. In addition, he says that a person experiences certain situations in which he willingly bears pain such as sacrifice of freedom fighters and martyredom of soldiers. According to John Stuart Mill, there are two types of pleasure- individual pleasure and collective pleasure. He says that the pleasure which satisfy only senses are inferior pleasures such as procrastination, and the pleasures which satisfy the appetite of intelligence of an individual are superior pleasures such as reading and writing etc. He says that individuals do not work for pleasure. They do sacrifices sometimes.

J.S Mill on Liberty

J.S Mill was a great supporter of liberty. He was a champion of individual liberty. In addition, he asked “When it is right for the society to interfere with the liberty of an individual.?” He says that society can interfere with the liberty of an individual only to protect itself. An action can be restricted only if it causes harm to others. J.S Mill is considered the founder of classical liberalism.

He divides human action into two categories;

  • Self regarding action
  • Other regarding action

He says that society can only interfere with such actions of an individual that affect others and not with the actions that merely concern himself.

Mill on Freedom of Expression

Mill considers freedom of expression as the most important liberty. He was concerned with individual development. Individual development means increase in one’s rational capacity to think, and this is possible when one is allowed freedom. He says that truth is never absolute and complete. We can get to higher level of truth by having free debate and discussion. According to J.S Mill, free discourse is essential for intellectual and social progess.