Works of John Stuart Mill


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Indeed, that valid principles of reason—practical and theoretical—are established by casting a critical eye upon how we in fact do reason should be of no surprise: But the justification provided is real nevertheless. And from here, iterative validation can increase our confidence that we are warranted in reasoning inductively: As noted above, Mill claims not only that enumerative induction is a valid principle, but that it is the sole principle by which we are justified in inferring unobserved facts about the world.

We are not entitled, that is to say, to believe in something unobserved solely on the basis that it explains the observed facts Skorupski This is not to deny the role of hypothesis in investigation altogether, however. Mill claims that hypotheses about unobserved entities made in an effort to explain empirical observations can provide useful suggestions , but that entitlement to believe can only be provided by reasoning based on the principle of enumerative induction.

The reasoning that takes place in our scientific engagement with the world, Mill holds, is simply the application of a particularly refined version of such enumerative induction. Experience testifies, that among the uniformities which it exhibits or seems to exhibit, some are more to be relied on than others […] This mode of correcting one generalization by means of another, a narrower generalization by a wider, which common sense suggests and adopts in practice, is the real type of scientific Induction.

The history of science, as Mill sees it, is the history of the growth of our knowledge by inductive reason, but also the growth of our knowledge of inductive reason. As we learn more about the world, induction becomes more and more established, and with this it becomes self-critical and systematic. Mill claims that, as science has progressed, four methods have emerged as successful in isolating causes of observed phenomena System , VII: Firstly, the Method of Agreement: Secondly, the Method of Difference: If we have noted, via the Method of Agreement, that in all instances of A , a is present, we can, where possible, systematically withdraw A , to determine whether A is a cause of a by the Method of Difference.

Mill terms this the Joint Method of Agreement and Difference. Thirdly, the Method of Residues: Fourthly, the Method of Concomitant Variations: Such methods must, of course, be applied cautiously—the existence of background conditions makes it difficult to say with certainty that any individual phenomenon is in fact the causally active agent—and results will always be provisional, and open to further correction Ducheyne But by carefully varying conditions, Mill holds, we can isolate causes and reveal the laws which govern natural phenomena. By continued application of the Canons of Induction, the most general Laws of Nature can be ascertained—this is the ultimate goal of science.

Mill adopts a Humean account of such laws as regularities: Nevertheless, he thinks that science reveals the deep structure of the world—how things genuinely are. Kepler did not put what he had conceived into the facts, but saw it in them. A conception implies, and corresponds to, something conceived: In so far as a natural classification is grounded on real Kinds, its groups are certainly not conventional; it is perfectly true that they do not depend upon an arbitrary choice of the naturalist. Some groups of objects share characteristics because those characteristics are the very grounds of their being grouped together—Real kinds share an unknown number of similarities because they have a shared nature.

The notion is closely, though not unproblematically, related to the modern notion of a Natural Kind Magnus It is perhaps odd, then, that Mill himself was not a historian of science of any real depth. Had Mill been better acquainted with the history of actual scientific practice, it is questionable whether he would have insisted that the story of scientific progress is simply the story of the steady use of observation and induction—whether the Canons of Induction really are exhaustive of the way in which scientific investigation has enabled humans to obtain knowledge of the world.

A detailed anthropological study of the history of successful scientific practice is likely to reveal the irreducible use of imaginative hypothesis-making—not to mention changing questions and ideals of the sort later highlighted by Thomas Kuhn Such was the basis for a telling historico-normative debate between Whewell and Mill—the former arguing that scientific reasoning had and should involve the creative a priori development of concepts prior to the discovery of laws, the latter claiming, as can be seen in the quote above, that observation and induction alone could track facts about the world and elicit the concepts used in science Snyder Amongst the Laws of Nature learnt by way of inductive reasoning are the laws of geometry and arithmetic.

It is worth emphasizing that in no case does Mill think that the ultimately inductive nature of the sciences—whether physical, mathematical, or social—precludes the deductive organization and practice of the science Ryan Manifestly, we do work through many inferences in deductive terms—and this is nowhere clearer than in the case of mathematics. In contrast to many in the empiricist tradition—including his father—Mill holds that mathematical propositions assert genuine facts.

That we perform operations in a deductive manner in the following case:. We establish that two plus one is equal to three by generalization from specific instances: So too other such arithmetic laws. Geometrical propositions, too, are inferred from premises which themselves have real content. Such premises—that, for instance, we can draw a straight line connecting any two single points—are not mere verbal propositions.

Indeed, Mill claims, such premises are not strictly even true of the real space we encounter in experience: These are rather idealizations of that space—but idealizations which are based on principles that could only be known by inductive generalization of our observations. The same holds for the results of geometric reasoning System , VII: Amongst the most pressing questions pertain to the status of the objects which mathematicians talk about.

The Platonist can characterize the claims of mathematics as claims about abstract objects—but, as a naturalist, no such option is open to Mill. Similarly, there are no real objects corresponding to the definitions of geometry System , VII: Mill, rather, claims that numbers are properties of aggregates and as such denote aggregates with those properties, and takes geometrical objects to be limit cases of real world objects System , VII: One can, perhaps, take mathematical objects to be fictions Balaguer —but specifying how such fictions can be subject to constrained standards of truth and falsity remains difficult.

That Mill holds that even mathematics is founded upon inductive reasoning is perhaps most interesting because it demonstrates the radical and thoroughgoing nature of his empiricism. Indeed, the rejection of the possibility of a priori knowledge as such challenges the notion that there are any necessary truths. Mill does not shy away from this implication. Truths can be better or worse established—central or peripheral to our understanding of the world—and we can therefore be more or less willing to abandon them. But Mill shows little interest in principled or absolute modal distinctions between necessary and contingent truths.

Rather, Mill argues, some propositions seem to us necessary because of processes of psychological association make them so ingrained that their denial seems to us inconceivable. As such, they are subject to causal laws in just the same manner as the rest of natural world—empirical study of the mind, Mill holds, reveals that it is governed by the laws of associationistic psychology.

Such modifications of his associationistic inheritance were, in part, a reaction to points made by the Germano-Coleridgean school. His account, nevertheless, remains firmly within the tradition of British empiricism—and he never wavers from a commitment to the claim that our mental life is governed by causal laws operating in a deterministic fashion. The character of the mind of an individual, Mill holds, is a function entirely of the experiences that individual has undergone.

Specific experiences, to be sure, write their lessons on our minds—but background conditions, which differ from culture to culture, play an equally important role. A great part of what seems observation is really inference […] For in almost every act of our perceiving faculties, observation and inferences are intimately blended. What we are said to observe is usually a compound result, of which one-tenth may be observation, and the remaining nine-tenths inference. What are properly inferences from our observations come by processes of association to seem as observations themselves.

I observe, properly, only a certain sensory manifold, and infer that this is my brother—but, with repetition, the inference becomes merged by association with the observation, and I take the inferred content to be part of the observation itself. Processes of association, that is to say, renders our observations deeply theory laden. And the theories with which they are laden, of course, will vary with social setting. No one who believed that he knew thoroughly the circumstances of any case, and the characters of the different persons concerned, would hesitate to foretell how all of them would act.

Given that individuals are subject to such laws, there is little reason to think that the societies composed of individuals will not be subject to natural laws System , VIII: Understanding the human world scientifically—understanding it as part of the natural world—of course puts pressure on the notion that human beings are in any real sense free.

Our actions are causally determined, but nevertheless, Mill maintains, we are free Ryan Mill adopts a compatibilist account of human freedom. Although it is true that our character and desires, in combination with a set of circumstances, causally necessitates some particular action, it is not true that if that person had some alternative character and set of desires that that same cause would necessitate that same action. Had that person had different desires, or a different character, he might well have acted differently.

This, Mill concedes, would be of little consolation if our character and desires are beyond the control of an individual to influence. But, he points out, we can influence our character and desires. We can place ourselves in circumstances that modify our character, and we can practice better habits. The raw content of experience is itself extremely narrow—indeed, Mill holds, we directly perceive only our own internal impressions.

We have unmediated access only to the impression that are generated in us—we are directly aware only of our own mental content. We know of objects in the world only to the extent that they affect us and give rise to conscious impressions—and such impressions will only ever be presented by way of the mediating sense faculties. Our theoretical engagement with the world is always mediated by our conditioning faculties—and as such our representations of the world are always representations of what the world is like for beings such as ourselves.

John Stuart Mill

The doctrine ultimately pushes Mill towards Idealism. One might hold that, though we are only familiar in experience with mental impressions, we can nevertheless infer the existence of non-mental objects lying behind such mental objects. But such an inference could not be supported within experience by enumerative induction—no non-mental objects are ever observed behind mental objects—but only by a hypothesis to some unobserved entity.

As was noted above, however, Mill rejects the method of hypothesis as an autonomous form of reasoning—no such inference to unobserved non-mental objects could for him be valid. Mill is forced towards the conclusion that we can have no warrant for believing in non-mental entities. All that can be established inductively is that a certain class of objects of sensation are stable—that they can be returned to, after durations in which they go unperceived. Such, Mill thinks, is the true content of our notion of the external world. Matter, then, may be defined, a Permanent Possibility of Sensation.

If I am asked, whether I believe in matter, I ask whether the questioner accepts this definition of it. If he does, I believe in matter: In any other sense than this, I do not. The idea of an external world is not present in the content of experience. Rather, our idea of externality is derived from the recognition that certain sensations can be revisited: Whether this stance is entirely coherent, we shall consider below, in section 3.

We know our own self, Mill claims, only as it phenomenally appears to us—and we know of other selves only by inference from our own case. But he also resists the total reduction of mind to the existence of sensations—or even to the existence of possible sensations—on the grounds that there remains a unity to apperception. As he points out, a reduction of self to sensations cannot be wholly satisfactory, because a sense of the self enters into many sensations as a constituent part. When I recall a memory, for instance, the sensation is of a memory which has as part of its content that it is my memory.

If, therefore, we speak of the Mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind, or Ego, is something different from any series of feelings, or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox, that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series.

But the argument goes deeper, suggesting that we cannot even imagine what it would be to believe in the existence of non-mental objects. Indeed, Mill at times suggests a semantic version of the argument, which would establish that the very meaning of our words—determined, as they are, by experience—obstructs us from referring to anything beyond experience. It would, no doubt, be absurd to assume that our words exhaust the possibilities of Being.

There may be innumerable modes of it which are inaccessible to our faculties, and which consequently we are unable to name. But we ought not to speak of these modes of Being by any of the names we possess. These are all inapplicable, because they all stand for known modes of Being. As noted, Mill views enumerative induction—the sole method of warranted theoretical reasoning—as self-validating and self-improving. We spontaneously take certain initial inductive moves to be justified. Induction could have been self-undermining—its success as a form of reasoning about the world, established on its own terms, is not trivial.

As such, it could only be arrived at by inductive reasoning. Inductive investigation allows us to better understand that the mind is itself governed by natural laws—and to better understand the processes of sense perception that allow us to be causally receptive to the world. Such discoveries clarify and strengthen our sense of why a priori knowledge is impossible in the first place, and why empirical investigation is necessary for any genuine knowledge.

The view that Mill sketches is rich in potential—and it has sufficient breadth to promise a successful means of theoretically orienting ourselves in the world. The issue, of course, is, whether naturalism is the only possible view. The question must remain whether there are equally good non-naturalistic ways of thinking about the world and our place within it. Because naturalism is a substantive doctrine, that is a possibility to which Mill must remain open.

Ultimately, he holds, the only things that we can be warranted in believing are permanent possibilities of sensation. But such objects are not—at least not obviously —natural entities. Mill is never entirely clear about the status of the permanent possibilities of sensation. To the extent that they are ideal objects, we might doubt their status as natural entities; the further reified such entities are in relation to actual sensations, the less plausible it is to characterise the inference from sensation to the possibility of sensation as an inductive one.

The worry enters from multiple directions. Perhaps most obviously, it calls into question the down-to-earth realism that Mill endorses within the philosophy of science. Mill claims that a priori knowledge is impossible because we cannot know. But if the world is fundamentally ideal —if, as Mill seems to claim, our world is the world as conditioned by our mediating senses, because we can know and represent it in no other way—we might wonder why a basic harmony between the architecture of mind and world should not be taken as given, and a priori knowledge not be possible.

One option to resolve this tension, of course, is to follow Kant in distinguishing transcendental and empirical levels of reflection—another is to follow the post-Kantian idealists in attempting to unite and overcome such oppositions wherever they occur. Mill, however, never worked through the internal pressures of his own position with sufficient rigour to feel the push within naturalism towards these positions. Whereas theoretical reasoning concerns what there is reason to believe , practical reasoning concerns how there is reason to act.

Just as Mill thinks that there is one fundamental principle of theoretical reason—the principle of enumerative induction—so too he thinks that there is one fundamental principle of practical reason. There are not only first principles of Knowledge, but first principles of Conduct. There must be some standard by which to determine the goodness or badness, absolute and comparative, of ends or objects of desire.

And whatever that standard is, there can be but one. The principle of utility is examined in detail in Utilitarianism , during which it is both clarified and defended. The argument takes place by way of three subclaims. Mill takes the first subclaim— desirability —to be reasonably uncontentious. Happiness, most will admit, is at least one of the things which is desirable Donner His argument for the claim, however, has become infamous. The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it.

As such, happiness is shown to be desirable as an end. As was observed above section 2. In his spare time he also enjoyed reading about natural sciences and popular novels, such as Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe. His father's work, The History of British India was published in ; immediately thereafter, at about the age of twelve, Mill began a thorough study of the scholastic logic , at the same time reading Aristotle 's logical treatises in the original language.

In the following year he was introduced to political economy and studied Adam Smith and David Ricardo with his father, ultimately completing their classical economic view of factors of production. Mill's comptes rendus of his daily economy lessons helped his father in writing Elements of Political Economy in , a textbook to promote the ideas of Ricardian economics ; however, the book lacked popular support. The mountain scenery he saw led to a lifelong taste for mountain landscapes. The lively and friendly way of life of the French also left a deep impression on him. While coming and going from France, he stayed in Paris for a few days in the house of the renowned economist Jean-Baptiste Say , a friend of Mill's father.

There he met many leaders of the Liberal party, as well as other notable Parisians, including Henri Saint-Simon. Mill went through months of sadness and pondered suicide at twenty years of age. According to the opening paragraphs of Chapter V of his autobiography, he had asked himself whether the creation of a just society, his life's objective, would actually make him happy.

His heart answered "no", and unsurprisingly he lost the happiness of striving towards this objective. Eventually, the poetry of William Wordsworth showed him that beauty generates compassion for others and stimulates joy. He considered this one of the most pivotal shifts in his thinking.

In fact, many of the differences between him and his father stemmed from this expanded source of joy. Mill had been engaged in a pen-friendship with Auguste Comte , the founder of positivism and sociology, since Mill first contacted Comte in November Comte's sociologie was more an early philosophy of science than we perhaps know it today, and the positive philosophy aided in Mill's broad rejection of Benthamism. As a nonconformist who refused to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England , Mill was not eligible to study at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.

Mill's career as a colonial administrator at the British East India Company spanned from when he was 17 years old in until , when the Company was abolished in favor of direct rule by the British crown over India. In On Liberty , A Few Words on Non-Intervention , and other works, Mill defended British imperialism by arguing that a fundamental distinction existed between civilized and barbarous peoples.

John Stuart Mill (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In , Mill married Harriet Taylor after 21 years of intimate friendship. Taylor was married when they met, and their relationship was close but generally believed to be chaste during the years before her first husband died. Brilliant in her own right, Taylor was a significant influence on Mill's work and ideas during both friendship and marriage. His relationship with Harriet Taylor reinforced Mill's advocacy of women's rights. He cites her influence in his final revision of On Liberty , which was published shortly after her death.

Taylor died in after developing severe lung congestion , after only seven years of marriage to Mill. During the same period, —68, he was a Member of Parliament for City and Westminster. During his time as an MP , Mill advocated easing the burdens on Ireland. In , Mill became 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 debate. Mill became 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.

In April , Mill favoured in a Commons debate the retention of capital punishment for such crimes as aggravated murder; he termed its abolition "an effeminacy in the general mind of the country. He was godfather to the philosopher Bertrand Russell. In his views on religion, Mill was an agnostic. Mill died in of erysipelas in Avignon , France, where his body was buried alongside his wife's. Mill joined the debate over scientific method which followed on from John Herschel 's publication of A Preliminary Discourse on the study of Natural Philosophy , which incorporated inductive reasoning from the known to the unknown, discovering general laws in specific facts and verifying these laws empirically.

William Whewell expanded on this in his History of the Inductive Sciences, from the Earliest to the Present Time followed in by The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded Upon their History , presenting induction as the mind superimposing concepts on facts. Laws were self-evident truths, which could be known without need for empirical verification. In Mill's Methods of induction, like Herschel's, laws were discovered through observation and induction, and required empirical verification. Mill's On Liberty addresses the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.

However Mill is clear that his concern for liberty does not extend to all individuals and all societies. He states that "Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians". Mill states that it is acceptable to harm oneself as long as the person doing so is not harming others. He also argues that individuals should be prevented from doing lasting, serious harm to themselves or their property by the harm principle.

Because no one exists in isolation, harm done to oneself may also harm others, and destroying property deprives the community as well as oneself. Though this principle seems clear, there are a number of complications. For example, Mill explicitly states that "harms" may include acts of omission as well as acts of commission.

Thus, failing to rescue a drowning child counts as a harmful act, as does failing to pay taxes , or failing to appear as a witness in court. All such harmful omissions may be regulated, according to Mill. By contrast, it does not count as harming someone if — without force or fraud — the affected individual consents to assume the risk: Mill does, however, recognise one limit to consent: In these and other cases, it is important to bear in mind that the arguments in On Liberty are grounded on the principle of Utility, and not on appeals to natural rights.

The question of what counts as a self-regarding action and what actions, whether of omission or commission, constitute harmful actions subject to regulation, continues to exercise interpreters of Mill. It is important to emphasise that Mill did not consider giving offence to constitute "harm"; an action could not be restricted because it violated the conventions or morals of a given society.

On Liberty involves an impassioned defense of free speech.

John Stuart Mill (1806—1873)

Mill argues that free discourse is a necessary condition for intellectual and social progress. We can never be sure, he contends, that a silenced opinion does not contain some element of the truth. He also argues that allowing people to air false opinions is productive for two reasons. First, individuals are more likely to abandon erroneous beliefs if they are engaged in an open exchange of ideas. Second, by forcing other individuals to re-examine and re-affirm their beliefs in the process of debate, these beliefs are kept from declining into mere dogma. It is not enough for Mill that one simply has an unexamined belief that happens to be true; one must understand why the belief in question is the true one.

Along those same lines Mill wrote, "unmeasured vituperation, employed on the side of prevailing opinion, really does deter people from expressing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who express them. Mill believed that "the struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history".

He introduced a number of different concepts of the form tyranny can take, referred to as social tyranny, and tyranny of the majority. Social liberty for Mill meant putting limits on the ruler's power so that he would not be able to use his power on his own wishes and make decisions which could harm society; in other words, people should have the right to have a say in the government's decisions. He said that social liberty was "the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual". It was attempted in two ways: However, in Mill's view, limiting the power of government was not enough.

He stated, "Society can and does execute its own mandates: Individuals are rational enough to make decisions about their well being. Government should interfere when it is for the protection of society. The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

An influential advocate of freedom of speech , Mill objected to censorship. I choose, by preference the cases which are least favourable to me — In which the argument opposing freedom of opinion, both on truth and that of utility , is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief of God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality But I must be permitted to observe that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine be it what it may which I call an assumption of infallibility.

It is the undertaking to decide that question for others , without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less if it is put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions.


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However, positive anyone's persuasion may be, not only of the faculty but of the pernicious consequences, but to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn the immorality and impiety of opinion. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. Mill outlines the benefits of 'searching for and discovering the truth' as a way to further knowledge.

He argued that even if an opinion is false, the truth can be better understood by refuting the error. And as most opinions are neither completely true nor completely false, he points out that allowing free expression allows the airing of competing views as a way to preserve partial truth in various opinions.

He said that freedom of speech was a vital way to develop talents and realise a person's potential and creativity. He repeatedly said that eccentricity was preferable to uniformity and stagnation. The belief that the freedom of speech will advance the society was formed with trust of the public's ability to filter. If any argument is really wrong or harmful, the public will judge it as wrong or harmful, and then those arguments cannot be sustained and will be excluded. Mill argued that even any arguments which are used in justifying murder or rebellion against the government shouldn't be politically suppressed or socially persecuted.

According to him, if rebellion is really necessary, people should rebel; if murder is truly proper, it should be allowed. But, the way to express those arguments should be a public speech or writing, not in a way that causes actual harm to others. This is the harm principle. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

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In the majority opinion, Holmes writes:. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. Holmes suggested that shouting out "Fire! Nowadays, Mill's argument is generally accepted by many democratic countries, and they have laws at least guided by the harm principle. For example, in American law some exceptions limit free speech such as obscenity, defamation, breach of peace, and "fighting words".

Mill, an employee for the British East India Company from to , [41] argued in support of what he called a 'benevolent despotism' with regard to the colonies. To characterize any conduct whatever towards a barbarous people as a violation of the law of nations, only shows that he who so speaks has never considered the subject.

In , Mill sent an anonymous letter which came to be known under the title " The Negro Question " , [44] in rebuttal to Thomas Carlyle 's anonymous letter to Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country in which Carlyle argued for slavery. Mill supported abolition in the United States. This absolutely extreme case of the law of force, condemned by those who can tolerate almost every other form of arbitrary power, and which, of all others, presents features the most revolting to the feeling of all who look at it from an impartial position, was the law of civilized and Christian England within the memory of persons now living: Yet not only was there a greater strength of sentiment against it, but, in England at least, a less amount either of feeling or of interest in favour of it, than of any other of the customary abuses of force: Mill's view of history was that right up until his time "the whole of the female" and "the great majority of the male sex" were simply "slaves".

He countered arguments to the contrary, arguing that relations between sexes simply amounted to "the legal subordination of one sex to the other — [which] is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality. His book The Subjection of Women , published is one of the earliest written on this subject by a male author. There, Mill comments on three major facets of women's lives that he felt are hindering them: He argued that the oppression of women was one of the few remaining relics from ancient times, a set of prejudices that severely impeded the progress of humanity.

As a Member of Parliament, Mill introduced an unsuccessful amendment to the Reform Bill to substitute the word 'person' in place of 'man'. The canonical statement of Mill's utilitarianism can be found in Utilitarianism. This philosophy has a long tradition, although Mill's account is primarily influenced by Jeremy Bentham and Mill's father James Mill.

Jeremy Bentham's famous formulation of utilitarianism is known as the "greatest-happiness principle". It holds that one must always act so as to produce the greatest aggregate happiness among all sentient beings, within reason. In a similar vein, Mill's method of determining the best utility is that a moral agent, when given the choice between two or more actions, ought to choose the action that contributes most to maximizes the total happiness in the world.

Happiness in this context is understood as the production of pleasure or privation of pain. Given that determining the action that produces the most utility is not always so clear cut, Mill suggests that the utilitarian moral agent, when attempting to rank the utility of different actions, should refer to the general experience of persons. That is, if people generally experience more happiness following action X than they do action Y, the utilitarian should conclude that action X produces more utility than, and is thus favorable to, action Y.

Utilitarianism is built upon the basis of consequentialism, that is, the means are justified based solely off the result of said actions. The overarching goal of Utilitarianism — the ideal consequence — is to achieve the "greatest good for the greatest number as the end result of human action". But this appears untenable because the statement seems informative.

Verbal propositions assert something about the meaning of names rather than about matters of fact. As such, verbal propositions are empty of content and they are the only things we know a priori , independently of checking the correspondence of the proposition to the world. Such propositions convey information that is not already included in the names or terms employed, and their truth or falsity depends on whether or not they correspond to relevant features of the world.

He claims, for example, that the law of contradiction i. They are, like the axioms of geometry, experimental truths , not truths known a priori. They represent generalizations or inductions from observation—very well-justified inductions, to be sure, but inductions nonetheless. This leads Mill to say that the necessity typically ascribed to the truths of mathematics and logic by his intuitionist opponents is an illusion, thereby undermining intuitionist argumentative fortifications at their strongest point. A System of Logic thus represents the most thorough attempt to argue for empiricism in epistemology, logic, and mathematics before the twentieth century for the best discussion of this point, see Skorupski There are some other topics covered in the System of Logic that are of interest.

His discussion is driven by one basic concern: How can it be informative? Mill discounts two common views about the syllogism, namely, that it is useless because it tells us what we already know and that it is the correct analysis of what the mind actually does when it discovers truths. To understand why Mill discounts these ways of thinking about deduction, we need to understand his views on inference. The key point here is that all inference is from particular to particular.

What the mind does in making a deductive inference is not to move from a universal truth to a particular one. Rather, it moves from truths about a number of particulars to a smaller number or one. Though general propositions are not necessary for reasoning, they are heuristically useful as are the syllogisms that employ them.

They aid us in memory and comprehension. He focuses on four different methods of experimental inquiry that attempt to single out from the circumstances that precede or follow a phenomenon the ones that are linked to the phenomenon by an invariable law. That is, we test to see if a purported causal connection exists by observing the relevant phenomena under an assortment of situations.

If we wish, for example, to know whether a virus causes a disease, how can we prove it? What counts as good evidence for such a belief? The four methods of induction or experimental inquiry—the methods of agreement, of difference, of residues, and of concomitant variation—provide answers to these questions by showing what we need to demonstrate in order to claim that a causal law holds. Can we show, using the method of difference, that when the virus is not present the disease is also absent?

If so, then we have some grounds for believing that the virus causes the disease. The volition, a state of our mind, is the antecedent; the motion of our limbs in conformity to the volition, is the consequent. The questions that readily arise are how, under this view, can one take the will to be free and how can we preserve responsibility and feelings of choice? We have the power to alter our own character. Though our own character is formed by circumstances, among those circumstances are our own desires. We cannot directly will our characters to be one way rather than another, but we can will actions that shape those characters.

Mill addresses an obvious objection: Our desire to change our character is determined largely by our experience of painful and pleasant consequences associated with our character. If we have the desire to change our character, we find that we can. For Mill, this is a thick enough notion of freedom to avoid fatalism. One of the basic problems for this kind of naturalistic picture of human beings and wills is that it clashes with our first-person image of ourselves as reasoners and agents.

As Kant understood, and as the later hermeneutic tradition emphasizes, we think of ourselves as autonomous followers of objectively given rules Skorupski , It seems extremely difficult to provide a convincing naturalistic account of, for example, making a choice without explaining away as illusory our first-person experience of making choices. Though we may have difficulty running experiments in the human realm, that realm and its objects are, in principle, just as open to the causal explanations we find in physics or biology.

In other words, social facts are reducible to facts about individuals: Men, however, in a state of society, are still men; their actions and passions are obedient to the laws of individual human nature. Men are not, when brought together, converted into another kind of substance with different properties. Comte takes sociology rather than psychology to be the most basic of human sciences and takes individuals and their conduct to be best understood through the lens of social analysis.

To put it simplistically, for Comte, the individual is an abstraction from the whole—its beliefs and conduct are determined by history and society. We understand the individual best, on this view, when we see the individual as an expression of its social institutions and setting.

2. Mill’s Naturalism

This naturally leads to a kind of historicism. Though Mill recognized the important influences of social institutions and history on individuals, for him society is nevertheless only able to shape individuals through affecting their experiences—experiences structured by universal principles of human psychology that operate in all times and places. See Mandelbaum , ff. And these two assertions are only reconcileable, if relativity to us is understood in the altogether trivial sense, that we know them only so far as our faculties permit. Hamilton therefore seems to want to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to knowledge of the external world.

One point of historical interest about the Examination is the impact that it had on the way that the history of philosophy is taught. All three were proponents of the associationist school of psychology, whose roots go back to Hobbes and especially Locke and whose members included Gay, Hartley, and Priestly in the eighteenth century and the Mills, Bain, and Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century. Mill distinguishes between the a posteriori and a priori schools of psychology.

The associationist version of a posteriori psychology has two basic doctrines: The associationist psychologists, then, would attempt to explain mental phenomena by showing them to be the ultimate product of simpler components of experience e. These associations take two basic forms: Thus, these psychologists attempt to explain our idea of an orange or our feelings of greed as the product of simpler ideas connected by association.

Part of the impulse for this account of psychology is its apparent scientific character and beauty. Associationism attempts to explain a large variety of mental phenomena on the basis of experience plus very few mental laws of association. It therefore appeals to those who are particularly drawn to simplicity in their scientific theories.

Another attraction of associationist psychology, however, is its implications for views on moral education and social reform. If the contents of our minds, including beliefs and moral feelings, are products of experiences that we undergo connected according to very simple laws, then this raises the possibility that human beings are capable of being radically re-shaped—that our natures, rather than being fixed, are open to major alteration.

In other words, if our minds are cobbled together by laws of association working on the materials of experience, then this suggests that if our experiences were to change, so would our minds. This doctrine tends to place much greater emphasis on social and political institutions like the family, the workplace, and the state, than does the doctrine that the nature of the mind offers strong resistance to being shaped by experience i.

Associationism thereby fits nicely into an agenda of reform, because it suggests that many of the problems of individuals are explained by their situations and the associations that these situations promote rather than by some intrinsic feature of the mind. As Mill puts it in the Autobiography in discussing the conflict between the intuitionist and a posteriori schools:. The practical reformer has continually to demand that changes be made in things which are supported by powerful and widely spread feelings, or to question the apparent necessity and indefeasibleness of established facts; and it is often an indispensable part of his argument to shew, how these powerful feelings had their origin, and how those facts came to seem necessary and indefeasible.

There is therefore a natural hostility between him and a philosophy which discourages the explanation of feelings and moral facts by circumstances and association, and prefers to treat them as ultimate elements of human nature…I have long felt that the prevailing tendency to regard all the marked distinctions of human character as innate, and in the main indelible, and to ignore the irresistible proofs that by far the greater part of those differences, whether between individuals, races, or sexes, are such as not only might but naturally would be produced by differences in circumstances, is one of the chief hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to human improvement.

It offers a candidate for a first principle of morality, a principle that provides us with a criterion distinguishing right and wrong. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it had been explicitly invoked by three British intellectual factions. The religious utilitarians looked to the Christian God to address a basic problem, namely how to harmonize the interests of individuals, who are motivated by their own happiness, with the interests of the society as a whole.

As we shall see in a moment, another possible motivation for caring about the general happiness—this one non-religious—is canvassed by Mill in Chapter Three of Utilitarianism. In contrast to religious utilitarianism, which had few aspirations to be a moral theory that revises ordinary moral attitudes, the two late-eighteenth century secular versions of utilitarianism grew out of various movements for reform.

The principle of utility—and the correlated commitments to happiness as the only intrinsically desirable end and to the moral equivalency of the happiness of different individuals—was itself taken to be an instrument of reform. One version of secular utilitarianism was represented by William Godwin husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and father of Mary Shelley , who achieved great notoriety with the publication of his Political Justice of The second version of secular utilitarianism, and the one that inspired Mill, arose from the work of Jeremy Bentham.

Bentham, who was much more successful than Godwin at building a movement around his ideas, employed the principle of utility as a device of political, social, and legal criticism. In the realm of politics, the principle of utility served to bludgeon opponents of reform. First and foremost, reform meant extension of the vote. But it also meant legal reform, including overhaul of the common law system and of legal institutions, and varieties of social reform, especially of institutions that tended to favor aristocratic and moneyed interests.

They were the contemporary representatives of an ethical tradition that understood its history as tied to Butler, Reid, Coleridge, and turn of the century German thought especially that of Kant. According to the one opinion, the principles of morals are evident a priori , requiring nothing to command assent except that the meaning of the terms be understood.

According to the other doctrine, right and wrong, as well as truth and falsehood, are questions of observation and experience. The chief danger represented by the proponents of intuitionism was not from the ethical content of their theories per se, which defended honesty, justice, benevolence, etc. The principle of utility, alternatively, evaluates moral claims by appealing to the external standard of pain and pleasure.

It presented each individual for moral consideration as someone capable of suffering and enjoyment. Ultimately, he will want to prove in Chapter Four the basis for the principle of utility—that happiness is the only intrinsically desirable thing—by showing that we spontaneously accept it on reflection.

It is rather easy to show that happiness is something we desire intrinsically, not for the sake of other things.

What is hard is to show that it is the only thing we intrinsically desire or value. Mill agrees that we do not always value things like virtue as means or instruments to happiness. We do sometimes seem to value such things for their own sakes. Mill contends, however, that on reflection we will see that when we appear to value them for their own sakes we are actually valuing them as parts of happiness rather than as intrinsically desirable on their own or as means to happiness.

That is, we value virtue, freedom, etc. This is all the proof we can give that happiness is our only ultimate end; it must rely on introspection and on careful and honest examination of our feelings and motives. In Chapter Two, Mill corrects misconceptions about the principle of utility. He proffers a distinction one not found in Bentham between higher and lower pleasures, with higher pleasures including mental, aesthetic, and moral pleasures. When we are evaluating whether or not an action is good by evaluating the happiness that we can expect to be produced by it, he argues that higher pleasures should be taken to be in kind rather than by degree preferable to lower pleasures.

To do the right thing, in other words, we do not need to be constantly motivated by concern for the general happiness. The large majority of actions intend the good of individuals including ourselves rather than the good of the world. Chapter Three addresses the topic of motivation again by focusing on the following question: What is the source of our obligation to the principle of utility? What, in other words, motivates us to act in ways approved of by the principle of utility?


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  3. Mill, John Stuart | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  4. Mill defends the possibility of a strong utilitarian conscience i. Finally, Chapter Five shows how utilitarianism accounts for justice.

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