The utilitarian perspective of John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator, was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. He was an influential contributor to social theory , political theory and political economy, and his conception of libertyjustified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham although his conception of it was very different from Bentham's. Among his most well-known and significant works are « A System of Logic », « Principles of Political Economy », « On Liberty », « Utilitarianism », « The Subjection ofWomen », « Three Essays on Religion », and his « Autobiography ». In his twenties, Mill felt the influence of historicism, French social thought, and Romanticism. This led him to begin searching for a new philosophic radicalism that would be more sensitive to the limits on reform imposed by culture and history and would emphasize the cultivation of our humanity, including the cultivation ofdispositions of feeling and imagination (something he thought had been lacking in his own education). It means that Mill believes principles standards of living and justice but he argues that humans and desires feelings have to be in the center of the human being's reflection. The principle of utility that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to producethe reverse of happiness” (p.66 « morality and moral controversies ») was the centerpiece of his ethical philosophy. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” Utilitarianism is also called the Happiness Theory.
According to Mill there is a single and highest normative principle being that actions are right if they tend topromote happyness and wrong it they tend to produce the reverse of happyness : pain.
To introduce his conception of Justice , Mill explains that it is a huge test for his theory.In particular, Mill needs to how utilitarianism can explain the special status we seem to grant to justice and to the violations of it. Justice is something we are especially keen to defend. Mill begins by marking off morality(the realm of duties) from expediency and worthiness by arguing that duties are those things we think people ought to be punished for not fulfilling. He then suggests that justice is stood out from other areas of morality, because it includes those duties to which others have correlative rights, “Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which someindividual person can claim from us as his moral right.” (p. 71 « morality and moral controversies ») .Though no one has a right to my charity, even if I have a duty to be charitable, others have rights not to have me injure them or to have me repay what I have promised.
So, according to his notion of justice, human actions are good and fair if that contribute to the happiness of all : for Mill it isdesirable that each person comes to see his own happiness to involve the happiness of all. This is his definition of a moral act which has to contribute the happiness of all. In other words, an action is morally right in any situation if it brings the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Happiness is an equal claim of everybody, and involves an equal claim to all the means to happiness. Thegeneral interest cannot be violated, and those limits ( which distinguish a right act to a wrong act) ought to be strictly construed. For utilitarianism, the happiness is the best happiness of all mankind. And it constitutes morality, in the utilitarian view according to Mill.
Thus, Mill explains that the moral principle is the general happiness But there is a distinction between the moral...