Any judgement based on utility must be made as if in a world where there are no moral attitudes. If one did take into account others opinions and moral beliefs about a certain act, then it is possible for people’s feelings towards an act to be instrumental in determining whether it is right or wrong. There are many criticisms of Mill’s works, in particular some the harshest criticism comes in the form of that centred on his work On Liberty The most radical and uncompromising traditionalist attack is that mounted by Gertude Himmelfarb.
7 It may be useful briefly to consider Himmelfarb’s interpretation of Mill as a point of fairly acute contrast with that of with that of Isaiah Berlin whose views will be discussed next. Hibbelfarb maintains that it is quite pointless for us to seek logical connection between the philosophy of utilitarianism and On Liberty because Mill manifestly simply gave up any systematic link between freedom and utility. 8 In an arresting corollary she maintains that this stance in no way involves Mill in abandoning utilitarianism as such.
It is not that Mill changes his mind over a period of years in the course of extricating himself from Benthamism, finally to reveal himself in On Liberty as a thoroughly recon structured liberal. It is rather that Mill’s mind remains in profound tension exhibited inter alia in the fact that although On Liberty and Utilitarianism were prepared for press pretty well contemporaneously by Mill he proceeds in each upon quite distinct and incommensurable premises – freedom in one book, utility In the other.
There are two main problems with Hibbelfarb’s analysis. Firstly Mill certainly never saw himself as being torn between contending principles. Thus, recording the stages of his intellectual career in his Autobiography, he stresses his concern for consistency: “I found the fabric of my old and taught opinions giving way in many fresh places, but was incessantly occupied with weaving it anew”. 9 Secondly critiques of Hibbelfarb’s analysis argue that her interpretation is somewhat forced.
For the natural reading of Mill here is that he is simply claiming that considerations of “self protection” are “absolute” in the sense of being the sole or exclusive consideration to be held to be relevant in respect of “the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion or control”. 10 An explanation of what Mill’s intends is that, he intends the term to refer to the application, rather than to the derivation, of the Principle.
Another reason as too way the Hibbelfarb school of thought is flawed in relation to this is that Hibbelfarb’s reading is abruptly to foreclose further discussion of Mill’s philosophical consistency, the advantage of this alternative is to leave the question of whether Mill can or indeed wishes to derive the Principle of Liberty from the super ordinate Principle of Utility an open one, and hence whether or to what degree he succeeds as a consistent thinker.
11 Thus using Mill’s intended way of leaving the question open as to whether Mill can or indeed wishes to derive one from the other, it enables one to make careful examination of Mill’s distinctive and original treatment of key concepts such as “liberty of action”, “self-protection”, and “harm” in the context of his very much modified and revised understanding of his inherited classical utilitarian inheritance. 12 Isaiah Berlin’s view is that John Stuart Mill is capable of great complexity but susceptible to deep ambivalence.
13 Berlin’s central claim is that Mill’s mind is essentially self-divided and no coherent doctrine to be found in his writings. Berlin has three main points to make in his analysis of On Liberty. Firstly Berlin believes that above all, John Stuart Mill fails to square his theoretical commitment to an aggregative ; welfarist utilitarianism, in which Individual liberty only has an instrumental value, with his substantive view that human choice, autonomy, individuality, and freedom of action, have moral importance in themselves, independently of their contribution to general welfare (values them for their own sake).
As no utilitarian argument can possibly show that liberty has intrinsic value and should be given priority over general welfare, project of On Liberty doomed from the start. Secondly Berlin suggests that Mills without explicitly theorising the insight, ; resisting its implications for ethical theory, recognises an ultimate diversity of values that are often in conflict, rarely fully combinable ; lack any overarching principle to arbitrate conflicts ; tradeoffs – value-pluralist position: but at variance with the explicit monism of Mill’s official ethical theory.
Thirdly and finally Berlin believes that Mill’s mind also divided itself in his conception of the relations between moral theory and moral judgement. Mill’s official view was that, theory should prevail over intuition (like classical utilitarianism); but In Practice, his moral and political judgements often Impossible to justify in classical utilitarian terms. Berlin believes that this attempt to weave theory and intuition into equilibrium bound to end in failure. From the somewhat harsh analysis of Hibbelfarb, Richard Wollheim seems to interpret what Mill’s aim for his works were, to initiate consistent thinking.
Wollheim seems more open to Mill’s reasoning than many of his contemporaries and thus concludes with something that I feel is vital to this essay and indeed anyone wishing to ask the title of the essay in a more general forum. Richard Wollheim’s contribution ascribes to Mill’s a species of utilitarianism which is complex but non-hierarchical. Also claims that utility itself is complex for Mill’s in that (once a certain level of civilisation achieved) every person will have their own conception of their utility in the from of their personal conception of the good or plan of life.
Like others, Wollheim writes that Mill’s has hierarchical utilitarianism inasmuch as a form of ‘preliminary utilitarianism’ until people achieve the capacities needed to form their own conception of the good. After that point Mill’s utilitarianism has a non-hierarchical character in that Principle of Utility no longer dominates personal conceptions of utility as it does in classical utilitarianism, where utility stands to secondary principles in a straightforwardly instrumental, means-end relation.
But in Millian complex utilitarianism, secondary principles become, partly constitutive of utility in virtue of their role as elements in personal conceptions of utility or the good. Preliminary and complex utilitarianism hierarchical in that complex comes into play only when demands of preliminary utilitarianism satisfied. Complex utilitarianism not itself hierarchical, since utility is then to be found only in the diverse conceptions people form of their own utilities.
Perhaps one of the most important things that Wollheim comments in his analysis is that rather than compete against each other, infact utilitarianism and liberalism are aspects of each other. “For liberty because liberty is a condition for formation and practical actualisation of personal conceptions of utility. Mill’s complex utilitarianism and liberalism are thus not competitive but aspects of each other. “14 Ultimately the compatibility of the liberty principle and utilitarianism seems to rest on Mill’s own definition of utility.
It is apparent that utilitarianism is a doctrine that can be very different depending on a person’s interpretation of it and Mill’s suggestion is that the utility one should be looking for is one, which aims for the progress of man as a collective. Take for instance the case of a man who develops an eating disorder and us harming his body, which may eventually result in permanent damage and possibly death. By Mill’s liberty principle it is not acceptable for others to interfere in this man’s chosen course of action, and it would seem that a utilitarian would have to disagree and step in to prevent this man from causing himself harm.
However, if the man is allowed to continue it may produce some knowledge of which we were previously ignorant, and under Mill’s definition of utility we would be right in allowing the man to cause harm to himself in the name of progress. This seems like a very specific case and it is possible for many more cases to be made that would show how self-regarding actions do not always lead to the greatest utility in Mill’s sense and how therefore we would be justified in ignoring the liberty principle.
Yet the liberty to choose such actions for oneself, Mill believes, is one, which can only be good for the ‘permanent interests of man as a progressive being’. If men are free to do as they wish (provided they do not harm other individuals) the resulting honest expression could open up paths, which may lead to a new and better society. Even if the liberty principle allows people to do and say things which now we might feel are offensive or wrong, the fact that new ideas are being expressed could mean that we discover things we would never have known otherwise, it could even serve to strengthen the beliefs which we had previously held.
In conclusion to the second part of the question where if there is conflict between the principle of utility and liberty is it possible to be resolved I believe that the answer will be different for many people as in the case of the conclusion to the first part of the essay depending on a person’s interpretation which in turn will form different results. For example Gertude Himmelfarb would view the question and believe that the conflict could not be resolved whereas people Richard Wholheim would conclude that utilitarianism and liberalism are not competitive but aspects of each other, thus meaning there is no real conflict to be found.
Bibliography: Mill on Liberty, Ten C. L. , Claerndon Press, Oxford, 1980 J. C. Rees, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, ed. Williams G. L. , Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985 J. S. Mill On Liberty in focus, Gray J, Smith G. W, Routledge An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Wolff Jonathan, Oxford University Press, 1996 Mark Strasser – Mill and the Utility of Liberty The Philosophical Quarterly Volume 34 issue 134 Mill on Liberty, Ten C. L. , Claerndon Press, Oxford, 1980.
Mill’s Essays on Politics and Culture, New York, Doubleday, 1962 Pelczynski ; Gray, Conceptions of liberty in political philosophy, athlone press, 1984 Limits of Liberty, Radcliff, Wadsworth, 1966 www. utilitarianism. com www. johnstuartmill. com Word count: 2479 1 www. utilitariansm. com 2 JS Mill, On Lib 3 Mark Strasser – Mill and the Utility of Liberty The Philosophical Quarterly Volume 34 issue 134 4 An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Wolff Jonathan, Oxford University Press, 1996
5 Mark Strasser – Mill and the Utility of Liberty The Philosophical Quarterly Volume 34 issue 134 6 Mill on Liberty, Ten C. L. , Claerndon Press, Oxford, 1980 7 Mill’s Essays on Politics and Culture, New York, Doubleday, 1962 8 ibid 9 J. S. Mill On Liberty in focus, Gray J, Smith G. W, Routledge 10 ibid 11 ibid 12 J. C. Rees, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, ed. Williams G. L. , Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985 13 J. S. Mill On Liberty in focus, Gray J, Smith G. W, Routledge 14 Mill on Liberty, Ten C. L. , Claerndon Press, Oxford, 1980.