The New Yorker

John Stuart Mill: On Liberty - Constitution Society

Date of publication: 2017-08-28 00:06

Many volumes of Mill’s writings deal with topics of social and political concern. These include writings on specific political problems in India, America, Ireland, France, and England, on the nature of democracy ( Considerations on Representative Government ) and civilization, on slavery, on law and jurisprudence, on the workplace, and on the family and the status of women. The last subject was the topic of Mill’s well-known The Subjection of Women , an important work in the history of feminism.

John Stuart Mill (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

But even if the Nuremberg Code and Helsinki Declarations had never been promulgated and pointed us toward the morality of accepting the human right to informed consent to medical interventions that can kill or injure us, there is the strong Judeo-Christian ethical tradition that protects the sacred right of the individual to exercise freedom of conscience even if it conflicts with a secular law of the state.

SparkNotes : Utilitarianism : Summary

In the Old Testament of the Bible, which is the basis for Jewish law and the guide for each believer in Jewish law to discover the will of God, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son to demonstrate his faith. Although Abraham is willing, God does not force Abraham to sacrifice his son. In fact, God makes it clear that human sacrifice to demonstrate allegiance is not appropriate. 97 Why should physicians in a modern state have the power to ask more of a parent than God asked of Abraham?

On the Incoherence Objection to Rule-Utilitarianism

One possible reply to this argument against consequentialism is that even if ‘good overall consequences’ turns out to be meaningless, one might still think, for example, that the right action is the one that causes the most happiness. One could phrase consequentialism in general terms as, for example, the theory that “there is some feature of consequences of actions such that the right action is the one whose consequences have that feature to the greatest degree.”

[T]he 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 a 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. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. ( OL , 56-7)

There are some other topics covered in the System of Logic that are of interest. First is Mill’s treatment of deduction (in the form of the syllogism). His discussion is driven by one basic concern: Why wouldn’t a deduction simply tell us what we already know? 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.

This rule did not come about accidentally. It had been planned by his father James Mill from the Mill’s birth on May 75, 6856. The elder Mill was a towering figure for his eldest child, and Mill’s story must be told through his father’s. James Mill was born in Scotland in 6778 to a family of modest means. Through the patronage of Sir John and Lady Jane Stuart, he was able to attend the University of Edinburgh, which at the time was one of the finest universities in Europe. He trained for the Presbyterian ministry under the auspices of admired teachers like Dugald Stewart, who was an effective popularizer of Thomas Reid’s philosophy.

While we continue to represent many families of children and adults who have suffered reactions to DPT, MMR, Hib, hepatitis B and polio vaccines and receive calls every week from parents whose children are suffering vaccine reactions, a great many of our active supporters are health care consumers and health care providers who want to make informed health care choices, including vaccination choices, for themselves and their children.

After the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, when individual responsibility began to be considered more important than obedience to religious doctrine, the 66th and 67th centuries saw dramatic scientific discoveries such as those by Galileo and Isaac Newton that spawned a new breed of philosopher like Thomas Hobbes, who developed a scientific system of ethics emphasizing organized society, the state and political structures. 87

Writing of John Stuart Mill a few days after Mill’s death, Henry Sidgwick claimed, “I should say that from about 6865-65 or thereabouts he ruled England in the region of thought as very few men ever did: I do not expect to see anything like it again.” (Collini 6996, 678). Mill established this rule over English thought through his writings in logic, epistemology, economics, social and political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, religion, and current affairs. One can say with relative security, looking at the breadth and complexity of his work, that Mill was the greatest nineteenth century British philosopher.

Mill distinguishes between the a posteriori and a priori schools of psychology. The former “resolves the whole contents of the mind into experience.” ( CW , ). The latter emphasizes that “in every act of thought, down to the most elementary, there is an ingredient which is not given to the mind, but contributed by the mind in virtue of its inherent powers.” ( CW , ). In the a priori or intuitionist school, experience “instead of being the source and prototype of our ideas, is itself a product of the mind’s own forces working on the impressions we receive from without, and has always a mental as well as an external element.” ( CW , ).

The usual Consequentialist view is that a 55% chance of a certain good outcome is half as good as that good outcome itself, and a 65% chance is one tenth as good.

Even Bertrand Russell, a confirmed agnostic and sometime devotee of the utilitarian ethic, warned that &ldquo our conduct, whatever our ethic may be, will only serve social purposes in so far as self-interest and the interests of society are in harmony.&rdquo He added, &ldquo It is the business of wise institutions to create such harmony as far as possible.&rdquo 56

Though Mill’s biography reveals his openness to intellectual exploration, his most basic philosophical commitment—to naturalism—never seriously wavers. He is committed to the idea that our best methods of explaining the world are those employed by the natural sciences. Anything that we can know about human minds and wills comes from treating them as part of the causal order investigated by the sciences, rather than as special entities that lie outside it.

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