"One person with a belief is equal to
ninety-nine who have only interests."
• John Stuart Mill was born in London on May 20,
1806, and was the eldest of son of James Mill.
• He was educated entirely by his father, James
Mill, and was deliberately shielded from association
with other boys of his age.
• From his earliest years, he was subjected to a
rigid system of intellectual discipline.
• As a result of this system, according to his own
account, he believed this gave him an advantage of
a quarter of a century over his contemporaries.
• Mill recognized, in later life, that his father's system had
the fault of appealing to the intellect only and that the
culture of his practical and emotional life had been
neglected, while his physical health was probably
undermined by the strenuous labor exacted from him.
• James Mill's method seems to have been designed to make
his son's mind a first-rate thinking machine, so that the boy
might become a prophet of the utilitarian gospel.
• He had no doubts at the outset of his career. On reading
Bentham (this was when he was fifteen or sixteen) the
feeling rushed upon him "that all previous moralists were
• He was already coming to be looked upon as a leader of
thought when, in his twenty-first year, the mental crisis
occurred which is described in his Autobiography.
• This crisis was a result of the severe strain, physical and
mental,to which he had been subjected from his earliest
• He was "in a dull state of nerves;" the objects of his life for
which he had been trained and for which he had worked lost
– He had "no delight in virtue, or the general good, but also just
as little in anything else;"
– A constant habit of analysis had dried up the fountains of
feeling within him.
– After many months of despair he found, accidentally, that the
capacity for emotion was not dead, and "the cloud gradually drew off"
• Another important factor in his life was Mrs. Taylor,
who coauthored pieces with him. He maintained a close
relationship with her for many years while she was married.
When her husband died, Mill married her in 1851.
• His work in connection with the literary journals
• He wrote articles almost without number and on an
endless variety of subjects (philosophical, political,
• They began with The Westminster Review and extended
to other magazines especially The London Review and,
afterwards, The London and Westminster Review.
• They were valuable as enabling us to trace the
development of his opinions, the growth of his views in
philosophy, and the gradual modification of his radicalism in
• But most important we are able to see his ETHICS
– WE SHOULD ALWAYS PERFORM THE ACT WHICH
BRINGS THE MOST HAPPINESS TO THE MOST PEOPLE
"The only freedom which deserves the name is that of
pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not
attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts
to obtain it."
– RIGHT OR WRONG DEPEND ON THE
NATURE OF THE ACT ORTHE RESULT OF THE ACT
"A person may cause evil to others not only by his
actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly
accountable to them for the injury."
• Is a school of thought identified with the
writings ofJeremy Bentham and James Mill.
• It advocates the principle and goal of "the
greatest happiness of the greatest number".
• Though admirable, its approach to achieving
happiness was rather like a stimulus or response
approach, focusing on the influence of pleasure and
pain and the negative and positive associations
created through praise and punishment.
• Its approach in education was to form positive
associations with actions for social good and
negative associations with things socially hurtful.
• John Stuart Mill argues that moral theories are
divided between two distinct approaches:
– The intuitive and inductive schools.
• Although both schools agree on the existence of
a single and highest normative principle
– (Being that actions are right if they tend to promote
happiness and wrong if they tend to produce the
reverse of happiness)
• They disagree about whether we have
knowledge of that principle intuitively, or
• Mill defines "happiness" to be both intellectual and
• He argues that we have a sense of dignity that makes
us prefer intellectual pleasures to sensual ones.
• He adds that the principle of utility involves
an action's consequences, and not the motives or
character traits of the agent.
• Mill argues that the principle of utility should be seen
as a tool for generating secondary moral principles,
which promote general happiness.
• Thus most of our actions will be judged according to
these secondary principles.
• He feels that we should appeal directly to the
principle of utility itself only when faced with a
moral dilemma between two secondary principles.
• For example:
– A moral principle of charity dictates that one
should feed a starving neighbor
– The moral principle of self-preservation dictates
that one should feed oneself.
• If one does not have enough food to do both,
then one should determine whether general
happiness would be better served by feeding my
neighbour, or feeding oneself.
• Mill discusses our motivations to abide by the
utilitarian standard of morality.
• Man is not commonly motivated to specific acts
such as to kill or steal, instead, we are motivated
to promote general happiness.
• Mill argues that there are two classes of
motivations for promoting general happiness.
– First, there are external motivations arising from our
hope of pleasing and fear of displeasing God and
– More importantly, there is a motivation internal to the
agent, which is the feeling of duty.
• For Mill, this feeling of duty consists
of an amalgamation of different feelings developed
over time, such as:
Childhood recollections, and
• The binding force of our sense of duty is the
experience of pain or remorse when one acts against
these feelings by not promoting general happiness.
• Mill argues that duty is subjective and develops with
• However, man has an instinctive feeling of unity,
which guides the development of duty toward general
• Mill's proof for the principle of
utility notes that no fundamental principle is
capable of a direct proof.
• Instead, the only way to prove that general
happiness is desirable is to show man's
desire for it.
– His proof is as follows:
– If X is the only thing desired, then X is the only
thing that ought to be desired.
• Thus if general happiness is the only thing
then general happiness is the only thing that
ought to be desired.
• Mill recognizes the controversiality of this and
• A critic might argue that besides happiness,
are other things, such as virtue, which we desire
• Responding to this, Mill says that everything we
desire becomes part of happiness
• Thus, happiness becomes a complex phenomenon
composed of many parts, such as:
– Love of money
– Power, and
• Critics of utilitarianism argue that unlike the
suppositions of utilitarianism, morality is not
based on consequences of actions.
• Instead, it is based on the fundamental concept
• Mill sees the concept of justice as a case for
• Thus, he uses the concept of justice, explained
in terms of utility, to address the main argument
• Mill offers two counter arguments
• First, he argues that social utility governs all moral
elements in the notion of justice.
• The two essential elements in the notion of
– Punishment, and
– The violation of another's rights
• Punishment results from a combination of
revenge and collective social sympathy
• As a single entity, revenge has no moral component,
and collective social sympathy is equal to social
• Violation of rights is also derived from utility,
as rights are claims that one has on society to protect us
• So, social utility is the only reason society should protect us
• Consequently, both elements of justice are based on utility
• Mill's second argument is that if justice were foundational,
then justice would not be ambiguous
• According to Mill, there are disputes in the notion of justice
when examining theories of punishment, fair distribution of
wealth, and fair taxation
• Only by appealing to utility can these disputes be resolved.
Mill concludes that justice is a genuine concept, but it must
be seen as based on utility
• John Stuart Mill was the first person in the
history of Parliament to call for women to be given the right
to vote, vigorously defending this position in subsequent
• He was a strong advocate of such social reforms as labour
unions and farm cooperatives
• In Considerations on Representative Government, Mill called
for various reforms of Parliament and voting, especially
proportional representation, the Single Transferable Vote,
and the extension of suffrage.
• He was godfather to the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
• On his religious views, Mill was an atheist.
• He died in 1873 of erysipelas, an acute streptococcus
bacterial infection, also known as"St. Anthony's fire" in
Avignon, France, where he was buried alongside his wife.
"Life has a certain
flavor for those who
have fought and risked
all that the sheltered and
protected can never
~John Stuart Mill
Life definitely had a certain flavor for John
• An Introduction to Utilitarianism
– Eugene Lee, University Scholars Program, National
University of Singapore
• John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, George Sher
Edt., Hacket, Indianapolis, 1979.