Mill’s Moral Philosophy

  • Don A. Habibi
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 85)


This chapter will examine Mill’s revisionist utilitarianism. I want to show that ideas such as self-cultivation and social improvement lie at the heart of Mill’s moral theory. In order to understand Mill’s ethics, one must appreciate the centrality of his growth ethic. The key concept of ‘happiness,’ which Mill describes as the summum bonum, is based on his conception of human development and refinement. A careful review of Mill’s utilitarianism will establish the intimate connection between his ideas of happiness and growth.


Human Nature Moral Philosophy Collect Work Social Choice Theory Interpersonal Comparison 
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  1. 1.
    See Geoffrey Scarre, “Utilitarianism,” Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998), vol. 4, p. 439.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The ingredients of utilitarianism are found in the history of thought long before Bentham and the philosophic radicals. The ancient Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu (Mo-Ti of Sung) is sometimes described as a utilitarian. Among the ancient Greeks, hedonistic theories were developed by Aristippus of Cyrene and Epicurus. Among Bentham’s British and Continental precursors, utilitarian ideas are found in the works of Richard Cumberland, John Gay, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Claude-Adrien Helvétius, Cesare Bonesana marchese di Beccaria, Jean François de Chastellux, and Joseph Priestley. Mill makes this point in his obituary of Bentham in the Examiner, June 10, 1832 (Collected Works XXIII, p. 471). Bentham acknowledges his intellectual debts in ‘Pleasures and Pains How measured’ (cited by Douglas G. Long, “Utility and the Utility Principle,” Utilitas, 2:1 (May, 1990), p. 20, footnote 39. For a recent survey of the history of utilitarianism, see Geoffrey Scarre’s Utilitarianism (London and New York: Routledge, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment on Government (London: T. Payne, 1776), Preface, paragraph two, page ii. For a history and analysis of Bentham’s formula, see David Baumgardt, Bentham and the Ethics of Today (Princeton University Press, 1952), pp. 33–63, 505. James Griffin explains why it is problematic. See Well-being: Its meaning,measurement, and moral importance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 151–55.Google Scholar
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    Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), chapter I, number 11.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    I am following Richard Brandt’s definition of ‘psychological hedonism’ as the view that volition or desire is always determined by pleasures or pains, prospective, actual, or past; and, ’ethical hedonism’ as the view that a thing is intrinsically desirable if and only if and to the degree that it is pleasant. Ethical Theory: The Problems of Normative and Critical Ethics (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959), pp. 300, 308.Google Scholar
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  10. 10.
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    Classics in game theory and expected utility theory are Oskar Morgenstern and John von Neumann, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton University Press, 1953) and Leonard Savage, The Foundations of Statistics (New York: Dover, 1972). For a useful discussion on rationality, see Jon Elster, Sour Grapes: Studies in the subversion of rationality (Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapter one.Google Scholar
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  19. 19.
    Among scholars of utilitarianism, there are numerous interpretations of how Bentham’s calculus should be understood, as well as how it relates to John Stuart Mill’s quality/quantity distinction. (I shall have more to say on this shortly.) See Fred Wilson, Psychological Analysis and the Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (op. cit., endnote 13), chapter seven, sect. 4, esp. pp. 264ff.Google Scholar
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  22. 22.
    See, for example, Dave Kuehls, “Staying Healthy: Seven surefire strategies for avoiding injury,” Runner’s World,33:8 (Aug., 1998) p. 50; Robert Paul Wolff, About Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995), p. 58; and, D. H. Monro, “Bentham, Jeremy,” in Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan & The Free Press, 1967), vol. I, p. 282.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    See Mill’s letter to Charles Dupont-White, 10 October, 1861 (Collected Works XV p. 745); see also J. B. Schneewind’s introduction to Mill’s Ethical Writings (New York: Collier-MacMillan, 1965), particularly the opening paragraphs. (Also of interest is J. C. Rees, Mill and His Early Critics [University College, Leicester, 1956], pp. 33–36.)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Whewell interprets Bentham as equating human and animal pleasures and pains. He writes: The Morality which depends upon the increase of pleasure alone would make it our duty to increase the pleasures of pigs or of geese rather than those of men, if we were sure that the pleasure we could give them were greater than the pleasures of men…. we may sacrifice the happiness of men, provided we can in that way produce an overplus of pleasure to cats, dogs and hogs, not to say lice and fleas. Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, second edition (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1862), pp. 236–37. Mill responds to Whewell’s attacks on utilitarianism in “Whewell on Moral Philosophy,” Westminster Review, Oct., 1852 (Collected Works X, pp. 165–201). Also see H. B. Acton, “Animal Pleasures,” Massachusetts Review, 2:3 (Spring, 1961), pp. 545–48; and James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1986), p. 86. For a modern articulation of the ‘non-speciesist’ viewpoint see Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1977). Cf. Michael Leahy, Against Liberation: Putting Animals in Perspective (Routledge, 1991).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hard Times for These Times was first serialized in Household Words,April-August, 1854. It was published as a complete novel later that year by Bradbury & Evans. For an analysis of Dickens’ allusions to Bentham, utilitarianism, and the education of J. S. Mill, see William W. Watt’s introduction to Hard Times (New York: Rinehart & Co., 1958), pp. viixxxiii. N. B. de Marchi argues that Dickens caricatures political economists, such as Mill, unfavorably, because he felt that moral and humane considerations should take precedence over the merely economic. See de Marchi’s “The success of Mill’s Principles,” History of Political Economy, 6:2 (Summer, 1974), pp. 127, 145. See also Alan Ryan, J. S. Mill (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), pp. 23–25. For an example of Mill’s feelings for Dickens, see his letter to Charles Eliot Norton, June 26, 1870 (Collected Works XVII, p. 1740). Cf. Mill’s letter to Harriet Mill, March 20, 1 854 (Collected Works XIV, p. 190). For the reader interested in Dickens’ views on growth, see Badri Raina, Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ethical Theory, p. 304. Richard Norman points out that the “much maligned triad of food, drink, and sex are surely pleasures without which any human life is the poorer.” See Norman’s The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics, second edition (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 96–97. Even though Mill tended to categorize such physical pleasures as lower, I generally agree with Norman’s assessment, and add that I also agree with Nietzsche’s remark: “Without music, life would be an error.” (Twilight of the Idols, “Maxims and Arrows,” number 33.) For the interested reader, see David Braybrooke’s attempt to deal with the sexism of this old expression in “Thoughtful Happiness,” Ethics, 99:3 (April, 1989), p. 626.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Thomas Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), Part VIII.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (London: Saunders & Otley, 1838). Continuing, Carlyle writes that utilitarianism is: “Admirably calculated for destroying, only not for rebuilding! It spreads like a sort of Dog-maddness; till the whole World-kennel will be rabid.” (Book III, ch. V [see also Bk. II, ch. VII].) Similarly, in his influential review of James Mill’s “Essay on Government,” Thomas Macaulay condemns utilitarianism as a serious threat to civilization: Is it possible that institutions may be established which, without the help of earthquake, or famine, or pestilence, or of the foreign sword, may undo the work of so many ages of wisdom and glory, and gradually sweep away everything but the rude arts necessary to the support of animal life?… If the principles of Mr. Mill be sound, we say, without hesitation, that the form of government which he recommends will assuredly produce all this. The Edinburgh Review, XLIX (March, 1829), pp. 183–84.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    For a howler, see David Johnston, who claims that Mill himself regards the classical doctrine as a pig-philosophy. Johnston writes: John Stuart Mill’s caustic remark that classical utilitarianism as conceived by Bentham and his father was a doctrine ‘worthy only of swine’* appears to be based on the view that that doctrine does not sufficiently identify the attributes that distinguish a human being from a creature of this extremely limited sort. The Idea of a Liberal Theory: A Critique and Reconstruction (Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 82. [*Johnston cites Utilitarianism (Collected Works X, p. 210).]Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    As Jacob Viner points out, Bentham had little interest in ethical theory. He was a social reformer whose training was in law. See Viner’s Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics (Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 166. The recognition of Bentham as a legal theorist rather than a philosopher is well documented in David Baumgardt (op. cit., endnote 3), pp. 9–10, and J. B. Schneewind, Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 130. Also see Nancy L. Rosenblum, Bentham’s Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978); and, Alan Ryan, J. S. Mill (op. cit., endnote 25), p. 101. Many of Bentham’s notions have been explained in terms of his legal background. (See R. J. White, “John Stuart Mill,” The Cambridge Journal, 5:2 [November, 1951], pp. 88–89. See also A. D. Lindsay’s widely read introduction to Utilitarianism,Liberty, and Representative Government [London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1910], pp. xi-xii.) On this interpretation, he wanted to make things easier for the legislator. His simplistic premises regarding human motivation and behavior, and his concern for neatly measuring and summing pleasure, were intended to facilitate legislation by providing an objective system for making laws and judgments, and for treating people equally. Ross Harrison concludes his summary of Bentham by highlighting that “Benthamism was never intended to be anything other than a system of politics and government.” See Harrison’s chapter: “Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick,” in Nicholas Bunnin and E. P. Tsui-James, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 629. Although Benthamism may appear more sensible if we appreciate Bentham’s legal and political orientation, this did not diminish the antagonisms that it encountered in Britain and Europe. It is worth noting that in one instance, Mill refers to Bentham as “a moralist by profession,” and accuses him of focusing on the morality of an action, while neglecting the aesthetic and sympathetic aspects of that same action. See Mill’s essay “Bentham,” London and Westminster Review, August, 1838, reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, vol. I, 1867, and (Collected Works X, p. 112).Google Scholar
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    J. B. Schneewind, Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, (op. cit., endnote above), p. 168.Google Scholar
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    Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1924), p. 45 (Collected Works I, p. 67).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ibid., p. 47 (Collected Works I, p. 69).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    “Notes of My Speech Against Sterling, 1829,” in the appendix of the 1924 Oxford University Press edition of Mill’s Autobiography, with a preface by Harold J. Laski. The speech appears under the title “Montesquieu” in John M. Robson, ed., Journals and Debating Speeches (Collected Works XXVI, p. 444.) See also “Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge,” London Review, vol. I (April, 1835). Reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, and Collected Works X, p. 52; Mill ‘s letter to Carlyle, Jan. 12, 1834 (Collected Works XII, p. 207); and, Mill’s diary entry for April 7, 1854, in The Letters ofJohn Stuart Mill,Hugh S. R. Elliot, ed. (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1910), vol. II, appendix A, p. 384 (Collected Works XXVII, p. 666). Bentham also disapproved of the term ’Benthamite’ to describe his followers. See his letter to Etienne Dumont, June 28, 1802, in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, John Bowring, ed. (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843), vol. X, pp. 389–90; also in Fred Rosen, ed., The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. VII, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, J. R. Dinwiddy, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 65.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Autobiography, pp. 149–50 (Collected Works I, p. 221). See also The Early Draft o f John Stuart Mill’s “Autobiography, Jack Stillinger, ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961), p. 220.Google Scholar
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    Introduction to Essays on Ethics,Religion and Society, Collected Works ofJohn Stuart Mill, vol. X (University of Toronto Press, 1969), p. xv.Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism (Collected Works X, p. 210).Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., p. 212.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See Fred R. Berger, Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. 37, and endnote 12 on p. 305. A couple of commentators have read into Mill’s utilitarianism a “three-tiered” hierarchical structure of happiness, which resembles the two distinct ideas of happiness to which Mill refers. See Richard Wollheim, “John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin: The Ends of Life and the Preliminaries of Morality,” in Alan Ryan, ed., The Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honour of Isaiah Berlin (Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 258–59; and, John Gray, Mill o n Liberty: a defence (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 46–47, 121.Google Scholar
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    For example, Robert W. Hoag contends that “Mill’s primary concern in Utilitarianism is with simple pleasures.” See “J. S. Mill’s Language of Pleasures,” Utilitas, 4:2 (Nov., 1992), pp. 249, 276.Google Scholar
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    John Skorupski, John Stuart Mill (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 304. The discussion in the text here is based on chapter nine (“Utilitarianism”), section 7, and I should point out that Skorupski is commenting on a quotation from A System of Logic. See also p. 284. In some passages Skorupski recognizes Mill’s commitment to growth (e.g., pp. 29, 250, 264), but he does not see it ever-present in Mill’s thought as I do. Also defending the status of the ‘lower’ pleasures is Jean-Claude Wolf, John Stuart Mills „ Utilitarismus “: Ein kritischer Kommentar (Freiburg/Munchen, 1992), chapter two.Google Scholar
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    In his essay “Rational Animals and Others,” John Robson discusses Mill’s views on the ‘animal’ and ’human’ sides of human nature. He explains that the human attributes are ’higher’ and ’better,’ and are to be developed. The animal side, though in us all, is considered ’lower.’ See John M. Robson and Michael Laine, eds., James and John Stuart Mill/Papers of t e Centenary Conference (University of Toronto Press, 1976), pp. 159–60.Google Scholar
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    On this point see David O. Brink, “Mill’s Deliberative Utilitarianism,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, 21:1 (Winter, 1992), esp. pp. 78ff.Google Scholar
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    Ben Knights, The Idea of the Clerisy in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 106. See also Mill’s “Utility of Religion,” from Three Essays on Religion (Collected Works X, p. 420).Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    In the essay “On Genius,” Mill writes: Whether, according to the ethical theory we adopt, wisdom and virtue be precious in themselves, or there be nothing precious save happiness, it matters little; while we know that where these higher endowments are not, happiness can never Monthly Repository, n.s. VI, Oct., 1832 (Collected Works I, p. 330.)Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Utilitarianism, p. 212. In his Diary entry for March 23, 1854, Mill makes the same comparison. See Hugh S. R. Elliot (op. cit., endnote 34), p. 381 (Collected Works XXVII, p. 663).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    On this point, see Hastings Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), Bk. II, ch. iii, s. ii, p. 75.Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism, p. 212. See also “On Genius” (op. cit., endnote 45).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    See, for example, Ernest Albee, A History of English Utilitarianism (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1902), p. 234; and, Skorupski, John Stuart Mill (op. cit., endnote 41). For a good analysis of Mill’s hedonism, see David O. Brink’s “Mill’s Deliberative Utilitarianism,” Philosophy &Public Affairs (op. cit., endnote 43).Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism, p. 212. Cf. Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosophy (Glasgow and London: R. and A. Foulis, A. Millar and T. Longman, 1755), Volume I, Book I, Part II, chapter seven, esp. pp. 116–19; see also Rem B. Edwards, Pleasures and Pains: A Theory of Qualitative Hedonism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 70–72, 111; Fred Wilson, Psychological Analysis and the Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (op. cit., endnote 13), pp. 33–47, 268–69, 273; and Mark Strasser “Hutcheson on the Higher and Lower Pleasures,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 25:4 (Oct., 1987).Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ibid., pp. 210–11. What Mill is expressing has been coined by John Rawls as ‘The Aristotelian Principle.’ Professor Rawls explains: human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity. The intuitive idea here is that human beings take more pleasure in doing something as they become more proficient at it, and of two activities they do equally well, they prefer the one calling on a larger repertoire of more intricate and subtle discriminations. A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), section 65, p. 426. As Rawls points out in footnote 20 on page 426, the interested reader should consult Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, bk. VII, chs. 11–14 and bk. X, chs. 1–5. (The Aristotelian Principle could also have been named for Socrates or Plato. See The Republic, bk. IX, ch. 33, where similar ideas are discussed.) See also Vinit Haksar’s Equality,Liberty, and Perfectionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), which includes a discussion on Mill and the Aristotelian Principle. Rawls himself avoids the sticky Millian notion of `higher faculties.’Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Utilitarianism, p. 212.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Robert Frost, A Witness Tree (New York: Holt, 1942).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Utilitarianism, p. 211.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ibid. If I may offer an example: For a person educated in music, hearing a recording of Billy Ray Cyrus sing “Achy Breaky Heart” any number of times would not produce as much pleasure as listening to Gioacchino Rossini’s “Overture” to his opera Guillaume Tell a single time. Mill does not insist that a small amount of a higher pleasure always trumps any amount of a lower pleasure. Thus, it might be preferable in the long run to have a compact disc recording of Brahm’s four symphonies than to attend an outstanding live performance one evening.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 211ff. Fred Feldman dismisses Mill’s “dubious claims about the preferences of experienced judges” and recommends that Millians drop the reliance on competent judges, as “this so-called ‘judgment of preference’ is not an essential component of Mill’s qualified hedonism.” See Feldman’s Utilitarianism, hedonism, and desert: Essays in moral philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 108 note 4, 119. (The quotations are taken from the text on p. 119 and footnote 24.) While I agree with Feldman that Mill’s reliance on the judgments of experienced judges is seriously problematic (a point I make in chapter seven), I disagree that it is unessential to Mill’s hedonism. I maintain that it is an essential element of his utilitarianism and his growth ethic.Google Scholar
  57. 58.
    See Fred Wilson, Psychological Analysis and the Philosophy of John Stuart Mill, pp. 191, 193, 240, 291, 293. See also Jonathan Riley, Liberal Utilitarianism, chapters three and four. The interested reader might find Robert Schware’s discussion of Mill useful. See his Quantification in the History of Political Thought: Toward a Qualitative Approach (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), esp. chapter four. I should point out neither Bentham nor Mill use terms such as cardinal and ordinal.Google Scholar
  58. 59.
    See Mill’s discussion on the happiness of the higher natures in his unsigned, untitled, unpublished essay “On Marriage” (Collected Works XXI, pp. 37–40). On this point I am in disagreement with Gerald Gaus who claims “that Mill postulates an apparently primitive—that is, not supported by reasons—preference for higher over lower pleasures.” Value and justification: The foundations of liberal theory (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 180. For an analysis of Mill’s notion of higher pleasures, values and attaining the ‘good,’ see Elizabeth S. Anderson’s “John Stuart Mill and Experiments in Living,” Ethics, 102:1 (Oct., 1991).Google Scholar
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    As long as the elite concerned themselves with the public interest (as opposed to their own selfish interests), Mill inferred that they would be like-minded. See the Autobiography, p. 148 (Collected Works I, p. 219); The Early Draft of John Stuart Mill’s “Autobiography”(op. cit., endnote 35), p. 189; and, “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I]” (Collected Works XVIII, pp. 73–74). See also Inaugural Address (Collected Works XXI), p. 250; On Liberty, p. 250; “Bentham” (Collected Works X, p. 79, 110); and, The Spirit of the Age (University of Chicago Press, 1942), pp. 62–63.Google Scholar
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    I will criticize Mill for these assumptions in the third section of chapter seven. A good critical discussion of Mill’s position on the ‘choice criterion of value’ can be found in Vinit Haksar (op. cit., endnote 51), chapter 11; and, Dennis F. Thompson, John Stuart Mill and Representative Government (Princeton University Press: 1976), chapter two. See also Kathleen V. Wilkes, Real People: Personal Identity without Thought Experiments (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 63–64.Google Scholar
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    See above, endnote 51. See also David Hume’s essay “Of the Standard of Taste” (1757).Google Scholar
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    Mill’s most basic assumption about the nature of happiness is called into question by many recent publications in psychology. The research suggests that ‘happiness’ (when defined as subjective well-being) has almost no statistical correlation with socioeconomic status, educational attainment, income, marital status, amount of leisure, level of religious commitment, etc. On the contrary, the research suggests that personal happiness is a trait more strongly associated with a genetic set point, a preset value to which it is tethered. There is little we can do to increase our level of happiness significantly over the long run. The hard work of self-improvement and character formation may make us more refined and self-actualized, but, the psychologists tell us, it will not make us any happier. To pursue this further, see Edward Diener and Carol Diener, “Most People are Happy,” Psychological Science, 7:3 (May, 1996); David Lykken and Auke Tellegen, “Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon,” Psychological Science, 7:3 (May, 1996); David G. Myers and Ed Diener, “Who is Happy?” Psychological Science, 6:1 (Jan., 1995). This latter article lists extensive references. Also see Bruce Headey and Alex Wearing, Understanding Happiness: A theory of subjective well-being (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1992).Google Scholar
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    These are not Bentham’s words: They are Mill’s paraphrase. See Mill’s essay “Bentham” (Collected Works X, p. 113). Commenting on state support for the Arts, Bentham’s actual statement reads as follows: Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either. Everybody can play at push-pin: poetry and music are relished only by a few… if poetry and music deserve to be preferred before a game of pushpin, it must be because they are calculated to gratify those individuals who are most difficult to be pleased. The Rationale of Reward, Book III, ch. 1., in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, John Bowring, ed. (1843), v. II, pp. 253–54. For an alternative interpretation of Bentham’s statement on poetry, see Parvin F. Sharpless, The Literary Criticism of John Stuart Mill (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1967), pp. 15–16; see also Thomas Woods, Poetry and Philosophy: A Study in the Thought of John Stuart Mill (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1961), p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Panopticon or, the Inspection House,Letter XXI, “Schools.” In The Works of Jeremy Bentham (1843), IV, p. 64.Google Scholar
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    Autobiography,p. 163 (Collected Works I, p. 239).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Mill’s letter to Alexander Bain, August 6, 1859 (Collected Works XV, p. 631); Principles of Political Economy, Bk. V, ch. xi, s. 8 (Collected Works III, pp. 947ff, esp. p. 948n); and, “Civilization” (Collected Works XVIII, p. 137).Google Scholar
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    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice. Rawls’ criticisms of utilitarianism run throughout his work. See sections 5, 28, 30, 65, 83, 84. The line quoted is from p. 27. See also pp. 168ff, 320, 450.Google Scholar
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    See Roger Crisp, Mill on Utilitarianism (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 79–80. Whether or not Mill’s response succeeds is subject to doubt, as Crisp seems to note (cf. pp. 135ff, 170). See also Rawls’ criticisms of utilitarianism for confusing the notion of impartiality, in sect. 30 of A Theory of Justice, esp. pp. 187–90. For the interested reader, elaboration of Bentham’s position in response to the criticisms of Rawls are found in Utilitas, 10:2 (July, 1998). Particularly noteworthy are Fred Rosen, “Individual Sacrifice and the Greatest Happiness: Bentham on Utility and Rights,” and Gerald J. Postema, “Bentham’s Equality-Sensitive Utilitarianism.”Google Scholar
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    See, for example, “The Condition of Ireland,” Morning Chronicle, Jan. 1, 1847 (Collected Works XXIV, p. 1025); “Endowments,” Fortnightly Review, n.s. V, April, 1869 (Collected Works V, p. 617); and, “Chapters on Socialism” (Collected Works V, pp. 745–46).Google Scholar
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    For statements on the universalism and egalitarianism of Bentham’s utilitarianism, see Plan of Parliamentary Reform,in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, III, p. 459. In the 1827 edition of Rationale of Judicial Evidence, Bentham writes: “Every individual in the country tells for one; no individual for more than one.” vol. iv, p. 475 (Book VIII, ch. XXIX) in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. vii, p. 334. (I am grateful to Philip Schofield and Tom Warke for calling my attention to this citation.) Elsewhere, Bentham explains: The happiness of the most helpless pauper constitutes as large a portion of the universal happiness, as does that of the most powerful, the most opulent member of the community. Therefore the happiness of the most helpless and indigent has as much title to regard at the hands of the legislator, as that of the most powerful and opulent. Constitutional Code, Bk. I, ch. xv, sect. 7 in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, v. IX, p. 107.Google Scholar
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    The letter is dated January 12, 1834 (Collected Works XII, pp. 207–8).Google Scholar
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    “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy,” in Edward Lytton Bulwer’s England and the English (London: Bentley, 1833), II, appendix B. Reprinted in Collected Works X, p. 15. See also “On Genius” (Collected Works I, p. 334); and, Utilitarianism, pp. 215–16. Contrarily, the French philosopher Michel Foucault saw this liberal optimism as a negative. He held that the belief in human perfectibility creates an optimism that inevitably leads to disappointment and failure.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 218. Mill writes: In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. Historical accuracy compels me to point out that these teachings, which Mill (and so many others) attributes to Jesus, originate in what Mill dismisses as the “inferior morality… of the dim traditions derived from the Hebrew books.” See “Utility of Religion” (Collected Works X, p. 415). The command to “Love your neighbor as yourself’ is from Leviticus, ch. 19, verses 18 and 34. The ‘golden rule,’ which is based on this biblical passage, has been articulated in many versions that predate Jesus, and it was a particularly popular teaching in his time. See, for example, Rabbi Hillel’s formulation in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31A, and Rabbi Akiva’s formulation in the Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4; Also see Mishna Avot 3:13. For a discussion on this point (that even mentions Mill in this context!) see Rabbi Hertz’s commentary in Dr. J. H. Hertz, ed., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (London: Soncino Press, 1966), pp. 502, 563–64. It is less well-known that Bentham also claimed Jesus for his social and ethical program, and referred to him the ’first utilitarian.’ Although he was an atheist, Bentham admired the moral example established by Jesus. On this point see Bhikhu Parekh, ”Moral Philosophy and its Anti-pluralist Bias,“ in David Archard, ed., Philosophy and Pluralism (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 122.Google Scholar
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    The term ’summum bonum, which is Latin for “the supreme good,” has been understood and used differently by various thinkers. I am following the most widely accepted definition, which regards it as the ultimate end that is not subordinate to anything else. In Simon Blackburn’s words, it is: “The maximum good; that which is an end in itself.” See The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 367. See also The Dictionary of Philosophy, Dagobert D. Runes, ed. (New York: Philosophical Library), p. 306.Google Scholar
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    D. H. Monro, “Mill’s Third Howler,” Contemporary Philosophy in Australia, Robert Brown and C. D. Rollins, eds. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969). A recent defense of Mill’s “proof’ is made by Joyce L. Jenkins, who interprets Mill as a desire-satisfaction utilitarian. See ”Desires and Human Nature in J. S. Mill,“ History of Philosophy Quarterly, 14:2 (April, 1997).Google Scholar
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    John Stuart Mill: A Study of His Philosophy (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1895), p. 239. Note that Douglas quotes Mill as having written “of a man” and not “of man” as quoted just above. This is due to a discrepancy between the original ‘Library Edition’ of On Liberty and the cheaper, more popular ’People’s Edition.’ Douglas, no doubt, was quoting from the latter. For the best discussion on this minor but interesting point see Theodore B. Fleming Jr.’s “John Stuart Mill’s Essay On Liberty: A Critical Analysis” (unpublished dissertation, Yale University, 1957), pp. 28–32. Fleming, incidentally, agrees with Douglas (and me) that the passage from Mill “seems to mean self-development or self-realization.” (p. 32.) Other scholars who touch upon this discrepancy between editions are John Robson, Essays on Politics and Society, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. XVIII, textual introduction, p. lxxxiv, footnote 37; John Rawls (op. cit., endnote 51), p. 209, footnote 7; Fred Berger (op. cit., endnote 39), p. 334, endnote 17; and, C. L. Ten, Mill On Liberty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 4 and endnote 4 on p. 174. It is interesting to note that one commentator repeatedly quotes “of a man” (most likely from the People’s Edition), yet erroneously cites the definitive Collected Works edition. See Stephen L. Esquith, Intimacy and Spectacle: Liberal Theory as Political Education (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 141, 170.Google Scholar
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    This point is discussed above in chapter two, section I, and earlier in the same section of this chapter. See also Skorupski, John Stuart Mill (op. cit., endnote 41), pp. 304, 350; and, Ben Knights, The Idea of the Clerisy in the Nineteenth Century (op. cit., endnote 44).Google Scholar
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    John Plamenatz, The English Utilitarians (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), p. 144.Google Scholar
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    Among those subscribing to this point of view are R. P. Anschutz, John Bowring, John Grote, John Plamenatz, Thomas Woods (all cited above), and James Gouinlock, Excellence in Public Discourse: John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and Social Intelligence (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986), pp. 21, 76, 155 (ch. 5, endnote 4).Google Scholar
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    Among those subscribing to this point of view are Fred Berger, Francis Garforth, John Robson, Alan Ryan, Richard Wollheim, Samuel Hollander, The Economics of John Stuart Mill (University of Toronto Press, 1985), ch. 8, and, John A. Hall, Liberalism: Politics,Ideology and the Market (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 24.Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism, pp. 209–21 On. In attributing the term to John Galt’s 1821 Annals of the Parish, Mill appears to have been unaware of Bentham’s usage of the term in letters to George Wilson (Aug. 24, 1781) and Etienne Dumont (June 28, 1802), and in “Bentham’s ‘Dream.”’ See James E. Crimmins, Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 288, 314. See also Crimmins’ “Introduction: Religious Advocates of the Utility Principle,” in Utilitarians and Religion (Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1998), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    John Grote, An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy, p. 25. It is noteworthy that Grote considers the discrepancy between Bentham and Mill sufficiently large that he labels Mill a ‘neo-utilitarian.’ As John R. Gibbins puts it: “Grote’s general claim is that Mill has gone so far outside what is conventionally called utilitarianism in his efforts to save his movement’s coherence, that it is no longer identifiable—in brief, Mill is heterodox.” See Gibbins’ “John Grote and Modern Cambridge Philosophy,” Philosophy, 73:285 (July, 1998), esp. p. 471. Like Grote, Christopher Miles Coope argues against Mill’s status as a utilitarian, but he acknowledges his significance as the author of Utilitarianism, as well as his centrality in ’dictionary definitions’ of the term. See “Was Mill a Utilitarian?” Utilitas, 10:1 (March, 1998), p. 33.Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism was first published in three parts in Fraser’s Magazine (1861), a popular monthly that covered numerous subjects of general interest. (It was reprinted without alterations in book form in 1863.) A. D. Lindsay writes “The open and candid character of Mill’s writings won many adherents to the system; but it has had in time a prejudicial effect on Mill’s reputation as a philosopher.” (op. cit., endnote 11), p. ix. [See also Fred R. Berger’s, Happiness, Justice, and Freedom (op. cit., endnote 39), p. 45.] It is ironic that Utilitarianism was written in response to critics, and yet it has been more sternly criticized than any of Mill’s other works. Many philosophers have considered Utilitarianism to be a sloppy metaethical treatise, even though it was written as a popular account of a substantive normative system. Henry David Aiken makes this point in defense of Mill. (See Reason and Conduct: New Bearings in Moral Philosophy [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962], pp. 54–55.) See also James Seth, “The Alleged Fallacies in Mill’s ‘Utilitarianism,” Philosophical Review, p. 475; and Geoffrey Scarre, Utilitarianism (op. cit., endnote 2), p. 95.Google Scholar
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    “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy” (Collected Works X, p. 12). (Mill refers to Bentham’s A Table of the Springs of Action [London: Hunter, 1817], in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. I [Bowring, ed.], pp. 195–219.) See also “Bentham” (Collected Works X, pp. 94–98).Google Scholar
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    A System of Logic, Bk. VI, ch. v, s. 6, p. 873; see also Bk. VI, ch. v, s. 2, p. 864.Google Scholar
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    “Remarks,” p. 13. See also Logic,Bk. VI, ch. ii, s. 4.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. See also Utilitarianism, pp. 229–30. This is not to say that Mill endorses the intuitionists’ position. For Mill’s discussions against intuitionism in ethics, see e.g., “Whewell on Moral Philosophy” (Collected Works X, esp. pp. 170–71, 179, 193–95); and, Utilitarianism, pp. 206–7, 249. Particularly noteworthy for my purposes are Mill’s arguments against intuitionism on the grounds that it retards growth. See “Sedgwick’s Discourse” (Collected Works X, pp. 73–74); and “Whewell on Moral Philosophy,” p. 179.Google Scholar
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    “Bentham,” p. 107.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 95.Google Scholar
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    For examples of narrow interpretations of Bentham, see John Plamenatz, The English Utilitarians, p. 129; see also Isaiah Berlin, “John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life,” in Four Essays on Liberty (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 177–78.Google Scholar
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    Utilitarianism, p. 218, “Bentham,” p. 98. Mill aims to educate people toward an enlightened version of ethical hedonism. As far as Mill was concerned, this aim was lacking in Bentham’s work. In his essay on “Bentham” (p. 98) he writes: There is no need to expatiate on the deficiencies of a system of ethics which does not pretend to aid individuals in the formation of their own character; which recognises no such wish as that of self-culture, we may even say no such power, as existing in human nature; and if it did recognise, could furnish little assistance to that great duty… Morality consists of two parts. One of these is self-education; the training, by the human being himself, of his affections and will. That department is a blank in Bentham’s system. The other and coequal part, the regulation of his outward actions, must be altogether halting and imperfect without the first; for how can we judge in what manner many an action will affect even the worldly interests of ourselves or others… ?Google Scholar
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    In “Remarks,” Mill criticizes Bentham for failing to see the use of social institutions to help people better themselves. “It never seems to have occurred to him to regard political institutions in a higher light, as the principal means of the social education of a people.” (p. 16.) In his essay on “Nature,” Mill writes that “the duty of man is the same in respect to his own nature as in respect to the nature of all other things, namely not to follow but to amend it.” (Collected Works X, p. 397.)Google Scholar
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    Henry Sidgwick, Outlines of the History of Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1886), p. 236. For the reader interested in the historical refinement of utilitarian theory, see Sidgwick’s classic The Methods of Ethics (op. cit., endnote 65). See also David Brink, “Mill’s Deliberative Utilitarianism,” pp. 67–68. Writing of both Mill and Sidgwick, John Dinwiddy remarks: Neither of them had quite the internal consistency and self-sufficiency of Bentham’s theory, largely because they both set themselves a problem which his own philosophy was so framed as to avoid having to face. Bentham (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 120. D. D. Raphael sees this interpretation as a common criticism of Mill, and he argues against it in “Fallacies In and About Mill’s Utilitarianism,” Philosophy, pp. 351–52. See also D. Weinstein’s review of Jonathan Riley’s Liberal Utilitarianism: Social Choice Theory and J. S. Mill’s Philosophy, in Political Theory, 17:4 (Nov. 1989), p. 684. For a defense of Bentham’s position (more so than Mill’s) see Martin Diego Farrell, “El liberalismo frente a Bentham y Mill,” Te2,s (Telos), 1:1 (Fall, 1992). For an analysis of Sidgwick’s conception of pleasure, see Fred Feldman, “On the Intrinsic Value of Pleasures,” Ethics,107:3 (April, 1997).Google Scholar
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    Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience (Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 114 (see also p. 118). John Rawls makes a similar point. He explains that emphasizing one ‘dominant end’ is unrealistic. Human good is heterogeneous because the aims of the self are heterogeneous…. to subordinate all our aims to one end... strikes us as irrational, or more likely as mad. The self is disfigured and put in the service of one of its ends for the sake of the system. A Theory ofJustice, sec. 83, p. 554. For a defense of pluralism (in different contexts), see James Griffin, Well-Being (op. cit., endnote 3) pp. 89–92; and, John Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism (Princeton University Press, 1993), and Against Liberalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), chapter 8.Google Scholar
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    Collected Works X, p. 337. In a letter to Gustave D’Eichthal (October 8, 1829), Mill writes: The united forces of society never were, nor can be, directed to one single end, nor is there, so far as I can perceive, any reason for desiring that they should. Men do not come into the world to fulfill one single end, and there is no single end which if fulfilled even in the most complete manner would make them happy. (Collected Works XII), p. 36. In recognizing the need for a pluralistic conception of the good, Mill anticipates the ideal utilitarianism of his critic, G. E. Moore. See Principia Ethica (op. cit., endnote 78). See also, Hastings Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil (op. cit., endnote 47).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Don A. Habibi
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North CarolinaWilmingtonUSA

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