J.S. Mill and the Good Life

Sunday, June 23, 2019

What is it

John Stuart Mill was one of the most important British philosophers of the 19th century. As a liberal, he thought that individuals are generally the best judges of their own welfare. But Mill was also a utilitarian who thought that there were objectively lower and higher pleasures and that the good life was one which maximized higher pleasures. So is there a way to reconcile Mill’s liberal project with his utilitarianism? Is the good life for Mill one in which individuals determine their own paths? Or should those who know better still try to nudge others to live better lives? John and Ken fulfill their potential with David Brink from UC San Diego, author of Mill's Progressive Principles.

 

Comments (2)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, June 6, 2019 -- 11:40 AM

I freely admit I have never

I freely admit I have never read Mill. Not yet, anyway. But, if he really did believe in utilitarianism and liberalism, we might ask if he was just another philosopher, talking two games simultaneously. Perhaps he saw no contradiction? Or, on the other hand, maybe this was his way of separating philosophers from 'the vulgar' (a common term, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which philosophers employed to differentiate between themselves and everyone else). Philosophy remains pretty 'full of itself', seems to me. There have been efforts to make it accessible to a wider audience, though these have not necessarily been convincing. We can't ask him now. Even if we could talk to Mr. Mill, I am not sure we would get a straight answer. It is fun to speculate, though.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, June 21, 2019 -- 11:50 AM

I have just received a copy

I have just received a copy of Mill's Three Essays from my friendly library. Looking forward to reading this work. One essay is about the 'utility of religion'. Recently, I have been outlining talking points for an essay on magic and religion. The premise being fleshed out has to do with the origins of magic and religion. Several of these, I will contend, include: ignorance; fear; uncertainty; and the human knowledge of the fatality of existence (in other words: mortality). No other organism has to think about this---primary consciousness neither provides for nor requires such agonizing. My essay, I hope, will illustrate the mysterious nature and allure of magic, and the restorative, promissory nature of religion. At the root of both magic and religion we find superstition. This might be viewed as one of the origins mentioned above, but I see it as an effect. (I alluded to this project in another recent comment on a different post.) Don't yet know how Mill treated the 'utility' notion. I suspect he will have said some things about this, vis-a-vis, his support of utilitarianism. I will have to wait and see...stay tuned!

 
 

David Brink, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego

 
 

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