When I say Bentham "inspired" Mill though, it was more like Bentham was crammed down his throat. Mill's father, a radical Scottish follower of Bentham, moved to London to help promote utilitarianism. He rigorously taught John Stuart with the the goal of "creating a genius intellect that would carry on the cause of utilitarianism and its implementation after he and Bentham had died." Mill started learning Greek at the age of three, Latin at the age of eight, and by the age of fourteen "he had read most of the Greek and Latin classics, had made a wide survey of history, had done extensive work in logic and mathematics, and had mastered the basics of economic theory." At twenty, however, he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent years going through crippling bouts of depression, which Mill eventually found relief from in the poetry of Wordsworth, among other things. How is that for maximising happiness, dad? It's a real credit to Mill that he fought through all this excessive advantage and disadvantage to become the sane and considerate thinker that he was.
As we'll see below, Mill joins Bentham as one of only ten philosophers for whom I reported nothing major has gone extinct. (The others being Bacon, Galileo, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Darwin, de Beauvoir, and Chomsky.) This distinction doesn't necessarily mean a place among the best and deepest thinkers in history—it merely means that their major contributions didn't contain any major errors in my opinion—but in Mill's case, he is almost certain to crack the top seven in my subjective list of the top philosophers of all time when I get to that at the end of this series. I'll stop with the introduction now to leave more room for some of his best quotes to show you what I mean.
In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.
Those only are happy ... who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.
A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.
Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it; we must suffer with its sufferings, and enjoy with its enjoyments; we must share in its lot, and, to be either useful or at ease, we must even partake its character.
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.
To discover to the world something which deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant; to prove to it that it had been mistaken on some vital point of temporal or spiritual interest, is as important a service as a human being can render to his fellow creatures.
The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors.
Unpoetical natures are precisely those which require poetic cultivation.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873 CE) was a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. He was also an influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy. He has been called the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.
Mill’s works on liberty justified freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. One argument that Mill develops further than any previous philosopher is the harm principle. The harm principle holds that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions do not harm others. He does argue, however, that individuals should be prevented from doing lasting, serious harm to themselves or their property. Because no one exists in isolation, harm done to oneself also harms others, and destroying property deprives the community as well as oneself. This limited definition of liberty is correct. Unfortunately, many libertarians do not recognize their ties to society. We must be given the freedom to discover our own best roles for society, but we cannot be allowed to endanger society or the survival of life in general.
Needs to Adapt
Mill'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 happiness for the greatest number of people, within reason. Mill's major contribution to utilitarianism is his argument for the qualitative separation of pleasures. Bentham treats all forms of happiness as equal, whereas Mill argues that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to more physical forms of pleasure. Mill distinguishes between happiness and contentment, claiming that the former is of higher value than the latter, a belief wittily encapsulated in the statement that "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” As was said for Bentham, once the greatest happiness is defined as the joy of the survival of life (and all that entails for a cooperative society focused on the long-term), then utilitarianism tends to work well in developing a moral philosophy. But it is still merely a derivative of the principle of survival.
Mill originally believed that "equality of taxation" meant "equality of sacrifice" and that progressive taxation penalized those who worked harder and saved more and was therefore "a mild form of robbery.” Given an equal tax rate regardless of income, Mill agreed that inheritance should be taxed. A utilitarian society would agree that everyone should be equal one way or another. Therefore, receiving inheritance would put one ahead of society unless taxed on the inheritance. In our modern economy, income is not tied merely to effort - income is generated far out of proportion to effort by the use of technology. In a hierarchical construction, those at the top are able to abuse their power by forcing their view on others that they “deserve” the lion’s share of this surplus income. But might never makes right. This surplus income is owed to the society whose rules and history created it. The efforts of even the best individuals are not worth exponentially more than their peers so their taxation should be more progressive. This also keeps society relatively more equal, which is vital to its need for cooperation and stability. The principle easily justifies a strong inheritance tax as well.
Mill recognized wealth beyond the material, and argued that the logical conclusion of unlimited growth was destruction of the environment and a reduced quality of life. He concluded that a stationary state could be preferable to never-ending economic growth. Stationary size does not necessarily mean a lack of progress. Economic growth comes from expansion and differentiation. Mill is correct that expansion cannot be indefinite. Differentiation through the progression of knowledge and freedom, however, means that perpetual economic growth may still be possible.
Very nice stuff. But there is a fatal flaw in utilitarianism in that by proclaiming the endpoint of morality as "maximising happiness for the greatest number," it can too easily lead to overpopulation and a crashing of the planet's ecosystems because not enough attention is being paid to the actual objective basis for morality—the long-term survival of life. Mill saw an inkling of this when he said the following:
There is room in the world, no doubt, and even in old countries, for a great increase of population, supposing the arts of life to go on improving, and capital to increase. But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages both of co-operation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained. If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.
Sadly for us, the world population was only about 1.2billion in 1848 when Mill said that. So even though he spent time handing out literature on birth control and didn't see why we would desire to grow, we're now at 7 billion people and apparently climbing towards 11 billion. We're crossing dangerous planetary boundaries every day with little concerted effort to fight those problems even though it may take little or no overall cost to the economy to do so. Without meeting the fundamental need of survival, there will be incalculable billions of lives lost with no hope of ever maximising their happiness. By taking that into account though, our own existential dreads, guilts, and anxieties will be lessened, and we would live much more confident and worry-free lives. Come on people...wake up and be happy!