John Stuart Mill - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness
John Stuart Mill (1806-73)
English philosopher (pictured right) famous for his support of:
- utilitarianism (see point 1)
His most famous books are...
On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1863).
What did he teach about ethics and happiness?
This says you should do things that:
Mill’s “Greatest Happiness Principle” says:
- anything that makes you happy is right.
- anything destroying your happiness is wrong.
He supported the English founder of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Bentham (pictured right below) said what is right is any action that is most likely to give “the
greatest happiness of the greatest number”.
Happiness comes from
a) material pleasures
Things you consume.
b) pleasures of the mind
(thinking, peace of mind and doing something moral, useful and creative).
These “higher” pleasures are more important.
“It is better to be a dissatisfied human being than a satisfied pig”, he said.
2. Will and purpose
You must have the will (or self-motivation) to do good.
So it’s important to be driven by the right aims and desires.
If you want something badly enough, you’ll get it.
“Will is the child of desire”, he said.
In his book On Liberty (1859), Mill’s “Liberty (or Harm)
Principle” says that:
You should be free to do anything (including freedom of speech, thought and worship), as long as you
don’t harm anybody else.
Self-protection is the only exception to this rule.
Don't blindly follow everyone else but:
- experiment with different ways of living
- believed in the liberty of the individual and
- opposed the “tyranny of the majority” (the majority telling everybody else what to
4. Watch the consequences of your actions
Morality (what is right or wrong) depends on the consequences of your actions (how
they affect other people).
Think about the probable consequences of all possible options before you act, then choose the
one that probably will do the most good.
Good motives and intentions aren’t enough. You must do good in the world.
5. Good government
The laws of a democratic government must be obeyed, but it must increase
people’s happiness without removing their liberty.
6. Personal responsibility
People must take responsibility for their happiness, not to rely on others including the
“A country is only as good as the people in it”, he said.
Education is important to encourage people to help others rather than just help
8. Supporter of women’s rights
Everyone has the right to vote including women, who should be treated the same as men.
His wife, Harriet Taylor (pictured right), was also a campaigner for the rights of women who
were then treated as inferior.
Key quotes on
The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community against his
will is to prevent harm to others, Mill’s Liberty (or Harm) Principle.
If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would
be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing
Key quote on
Ask whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.
Key quote on
That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next.
Key quote on time
What we can achieve depends less on the amount of time that we possess than the use we make of our time.
Key quote on
A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction.
Key quote on politics and
All political revolutions, not affected by foreign conquest, originate in moral revolutions.
Key quote on
A country is only as good as the people in it.
Key quote on influencing
A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight is a miserable creature.
Key quote on learning and
The true philosophy is the marriage of poetry and logic.