PHILOSOPHY SECOND SEMESTER- notes on John Stuart Mill
-Locke, Hobbes, Kant, Rousseau
-Descartes - foundationalist - I think, I am is the foundation of all knowledge, it's rationally impossible to
-our society stands or falls upon a foundation
-what constitutes a just society
-the notion of justice has to have a foundation, which is the philosophy of human nature
-we can't design a just society unless you know the citizens and what they're like
-aristotle says the human being is a rational animal with reason. different interpretations on what
human rationality is
-period of enlightenment - 18th century, is a reaction against medieval philosophy (philosophers form
their views based on political and social problems around them) medieval philosophy was all about
feudalism, christian religion, had to become secular of religion, reflected in philosophers
-the dominant political philosophy emerged from the enlightenment of political democracy, canada is a
liberal democracy and some others
-liberal democracy, agree that the state should be neutral about what the good life for human beings is.
should not tell the individual citizens how they should live. also primacy of individual rights over other
competing values, like national security. separation of church and state. liberals argue wherever there is
unlimited political power there is injustice, inevitably becomes tyranny. if power is so corrupting, liberals
argue that you need to take the three main powers f the state and divide them into three main branches
of government, legislative, executive and judiciary - they all check up on each other. principle of
democracy itself - people should rule. by voting people give up power to political institutions .
-can be a gap between the rich and poor but can't be a rigid class structure, because human nature is
universal so its unjust.
-in canada, no one is above the law, the pm doesn't rule, the law does.
-equality, if we have the same nature we ought to have equal rights.
-current governments are liberal democracy mixed with other. all human rights apply to the individual,
not to groups. conception of justice must begin with the individual. January 10
philosophy of human nature - you have to understand how human beings are constituted to understand
thomas hobbes agrees with the ancients that this is a metaphysical theory of human nature, and gives
us a new materialistic conception of the human being, by thinking about the human being in its
singularity - this is a new radical idea that appeared in the 17th century. think about human nature as
the individual, the self. locke and john stuart mill also agreed with this, a human being is not a member
of a class or other human grouping but is instead human nature is a timeless universal concept.
-philosophers disagree with what human nature is but most agree with this concept
-hobbes thought experiment, if you want a just society you must imagine an individual transported into
its natural environment, presocial condition. what social contract would we hypothetically sign onto as a
strategy of self interest? he argues that the human being by nature is a rational egoist, pursues their
own nature and happiness and utility rationally, acts strategically to identify, what is good, what it
desires, with an economic model maximizes its utilities and avoids suffering, this generally characterizes
human behaviour. we find that human beings pursue happiness by nature, avoid suffering BY NATURE
-imagine that human beings in nature are trying to design a government as a strategy of self interest,
this is the only motivational basis in nature, in nature there is a state of warfare because your desires
are natural tendency as other human beings = conflict, fighting and competing to pursue happiness.
-we have to identify the most rational strategy to get it and fight other people to get it because they
want it to = natural tendency is a state of war. natural state of human beings is nasty and brutish.
-hobbes emphasizes this warlike state a lot, locke and rousseau argue that this is an exaggeration that
human beings are natural competitors, they say that instead human nature is a natural state of peace
but there is a tendency for it to become more warlike over time = basic problem in nature, we're free,
no constraint, then it wil be a society of warfare = we need a government to create a state of peace.
-question - what kind of government will make war not only unlikely or manageable, but impossible?
-this was a time of much political tyranny and war everywhere.
-we need to design a government where wall will not happen - what kind of social contract would every
human being sign on to that is specifically designed to retain peace? - hobbes thought the answer was
an absolute sovereign - a king with unlimited power, a very strong state. - locke agrees with this thought
experiment of the state of nature, that it will deteriorate into war over time, but he said we need a more
limitted government instead, that we need a liberal democracy with a democratic government with an
elected legislative body.
-government with unlimted power= tyranny, locke says this is no better than the natural state of nature,
either way you're not free.
-this social contract, the basic aim of the social contract is to try to reconcile two fundamentally
different ideals - that the human being is constituted as a seperate individual, seperate from idea and
culture and tradition, and on the other hand sociability, because human beings are social animals. -we're not radically individualistic, we're social beings by nature. these modern political philosophers
emphasize individuality, but are also aware of the fact that we're not just solopsists (only i exist) they
also believe that we're social beings - the idea is to make these ideas come together. the question
becomes - why would individuals who are already free by nature sign onto any social contract, to submit
to the rule of law and create a government? - hobbes said that by nature human beings value their
freedom so they would not want to choose to give up their natural rights to the state - its
-hobbes' answer is that one would do this in order to escape the threat of violence and death = self
-other philosophers disagreed with this social contract of serrender of human rights to the state. -
rousseau said the rule of society should be the will of the general citizenry.
-it's difficult to say which philosophers are liberals and which are not - what the philosophers have in
common = theories of the state of nature hypothesis.
-what would motivate the individual who is rational free and equal, has natural freedoms and rights to
sign onto a social contract
-middle part of 19th century, things have changed - time of js mill, he has no use for the state of nature,
there is no example of this in history, its only a thought experiment of what might have taken place, mill
thinks this is not interesting and wants to use a whole new methodology, wants to use a whole new
moral foundation = utilitarianism!
-utilitarianism - roots in the 17th and 18th century, took explicit form in the early middle part in th 19th
century in england, mill's father james mill and his friend jeremy bentham - regarded as the founder of
utilitarianism = the most influential moral philosophy in the western world
-utilitarianism - the basis is to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number. pursue the course
of action maximizes happiness (pleasure, the absence of pain = quantifiable, no qualitative differences)
so the politically just course of action maximizes the net happiness.
-js mill thinks this is the best moral strategy by which to justify liberal democracy, this is the kind of
government which will maximize human happuiness, any other regime is a recipe for human suffering,
people want to be free and have their rights recognized and not live under a tyranny.
-js mil was the greatest british philosopher of the 19th century. in the 1860s was known as a political
radical. what made him radical, he was an outspoken defender of women's rights, not fashionable in
that time period.
-mill says theres a difference between the pleasure of music/ friendship vs. a meal vs. writing
philosophy. he says there's no common measure, but the government still needs to maximize net
human happiness. our government begins with this simple idea, has become very very complicated.
Introduction -this book = the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society/ the
government over the individual.
-this is in the age of democracy. given our commitment to representative of the majority, how much
power should be granted to a democratic majority? what are the limits? can the majority do anything it
wishes with respect to minority and the individual? no! they shouldn't be granted to do anything they
want, there need to be limits on how they treat minoriteis/ individuals.
-mill was a liberal, believes in liberty and human rights, the problem is that the commitment to
democracy and liberty conflict. sometimes, democratic majorities will vote to override the rights of
minorities, this is very common in politics = a serious problem, call it the problem of majoritarianism, the
tendency for a democratic majority to become agressive in ways that amount to serious injustices.
example = nazi regime, in early days, was a democratic system, had the support of the democratic
majority. how to reconcile this with individual freedom?
-ancient greeks = inventors of direct participatory democracy
-plato and aristotle argued that people don't have the knowledge or moral virtue to have political
-what is the record for democratic majorities? do they usually respect the right of individuals and
minorities? no! as soon as a group achieves power, the norm is to oppress somebody. by the time of
mill, this is an old worry, it is accepted that there needs to be a limit on government power to limit
oppression. - mill wants to solve his problem.
-by the time we get to the present day, everyone here believes in democracy.
-power - tendency to corrupt those that have it. like winning the lottery. Jan 14
john stuart mill
why worry about democracy?
he says it can usher in tyranny - back then tyranny looked like absolutism, medieval kings, in the middle
of the 19th century, democracy starting to become more deeply rooted and more established
so why worry about it? worries stem from ancient greeks.
democracy comes from ancient greek works kratia, power. and demos, people.
need to worry about power concentrated in kings, military, etc, not when in held in hands of citizenry.
no, need to keep worrying about power of the democratic majority, needs to be limits on majority
power or individuals and minorities wil be in trouble forever.
notion of popular sovereignty, people rule. mill asks how democracy actually works at this point in time.
observe empirically how democracies have actually worked, is it true to say that the people/society
rule? he says no. is society an agent? is society ever a proper subject in a sentence? can you say "society
believes this..." you can't really say this because society isn't an agent, it isn't capable of doing anything.
only the individual is capable of doing things.
society is the sum of real agents. it's a false abstraction to say that the people rule. instead, some people
rule and create laws and the rest of us follow them.
people who make the law are not always those of whom the law comes to bare, this type of government
is dangerous because if the majority makes a decision, violating the right of the minority, then they'll
say, the people of spoken, and you are included in the class of people, so really your rights are not being
violated. - mill counters this argument, says the people who makes laws make them for the people who
agree with them, and don't, to follow.
-need to make sure that this majority sanctioned injustice doesn't flourish.
-democratic majorities can't limit the basic rights of the individual
-page nine, there is a limit to the majority decision with individual independance, best protection against
political despotism. important to limit government power and make sure they dont become aggressive
-page nine, all that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcenment of restraint, what
these rules should be is a principle question of human affairs.
-only condition state can prevent individual from acting freely is when that individuals action will harm
another. = harm principle. page 14.
-page 14, that principle is, the sole end for which man kind are warranted, interfering with their action is
self protection, the only way power can be exercized is to prevent harm to others.
-rule out state paternalism to protect individual from harming oneself. self harm is, from the point of
view of justice, unlike harming another human being, the state doesn't need to act. if someone is about
to act in self destructive ways, how can the state have the power to do or say something? they can appeal to them to try to stop acting that way, but can't override to take away their right o make
-destinction between public and private, self regarding and other regarding actions. - some of my
actions are my own concern, self-regarding, not for the government to legislate. example - what you
believe about religion, doesn't really concern the government. doesnt concern your relationship with
other human beings.
-opposite - other regarding actions, affect other people in some way. most of actions are other
regarding. critics say theres no such thing as an action that is only self regarding, will bare on other
people and their interests.
-if it concerns other people in the world, he says it does so not in a way that we should worry about, so
these actions should not be legislated.
-basic defense of liberty, the individual should have a sovereignty over sphere of action that rightly
belongs to them. emphasis on freedom of the individual, liberty is one political value out of many
others. why is liberty the first principle? aristotle wasn't that enthusiastic about liberty, was more
concerned about society, if people were acting virtuously or in negative ways - they said doing your own
thing will not necessarily benefit society, especially if you don't have a lot of knowledge or good moral
-he answers liberty - to say we are rational and saying we are free are the same thing, they are
-the most vital interest the human being has in his own freedom.
-page 15, it is proper to state that i forego any advantage that may be derived from my argument on
abstract realism, in regard utility or happiness as the ultimate appeal, must be in the largest sense on
the permanent interests of man, on spontaneity, freedom, and that which affects the self and other
people. - he's telling us he won't make an appeal to abstract right, which means he won't appeal to a
form of the good, a form of justice, to a social contract, he's going to base his conception of justice on
utility, human happiness, alone. human happiness is a kind of tangible standard, it's not very abstract.
-the individual is pursuing their own conception of happiness, each person has the same basic principle
but also their own, only think about this worldly terms. if we're all by nature pursuing happiness, then
what kind of society is compatible for that pursuance of happiness?
-just limit on democratic power is the liberty of the individual, principle of liberty is an old one, everyone
pretty much subscribes to.
-he says all of us tend to profess a commitment to liberty, but we don't always carry this in practise, we
take it for granted and don't have it in the front of our minds in political reasoning, other matters tend
to take priority like how to solve a problem.
-when a political value is taken for granted, something else takes priority like national security. -common tendency of public opinion is to constantly try to compel people into acting in the same ways.
-he says his age is a highly conformist one. if this is true, then its vital to remember what makes
individual liberty so important.
-people act and think the same now as this age.
-chapter 2 - of the liberty of thought and discussion.
-most important chapter of the book, over a third of the book.
-mill argues that freedom of thought and discussion are the philosophical justification for freedom of
action. -actions are free because the mind has to be free.
-why do we value a free mind and freedom of expression?
-first principle of university is academic freedom. also freedom of the press is very important. we all
value these things unanimously, freedom of religion. principles - we ascend to, expect government to
refrain from coercing us into believing these things, unless the government holds the same view as the
democratic majority - we tend to object far less when the state tries to compel the minority into
accepting the majority opinion, but we need to object to any time that the state tries to coerce the
individual citizen to believe someone, like the public education system. a violation of freedom of
thought is always unjust even if the majority agrees
-if person committing suicide, then the police can try to convince you not to do it if you're on drugs or
something, but can't force you to stop unless it will kill someone else too. even if other people care if
you live or die, then they would still describe it as essentially being self regarding, only concerns others
in a secondary way. = issue can be pretty complex. january 15
law should be silent on the question of what the individual citizen believes - emphasis on the freedom of
have to ask is the human mind free? is the individual free to criticize the government then express it?
should hate speech be fully legal?
if youre going to ban hate speech it has to be a utilitarian argument - that it vioaltes the public good and
creates more unhappiness than happiness
polticians pass laws because they are vital to public good and support utilitarianism
need utilitarian arguments against censorship if you want free speech
can never be certain that ideas you want to censor are false.
says the foundation of knowledge is empirical observation, so you can never be certain that an idea is
first principle of university life is academic freedom.
any time that you try to censor something or shut down a conversation, assumes that there is zero
possibility of you being wrong. like prof with phd shutting down a student
house of commons - what is the state of their knowledge? they are not infallible, when you censor you
assume your knowledge is certain, which it isn't.
government - they have popular support, they try to censor crazy unpopular ideas, assumes that public
opinion is infallible (it's highly fallible)
and idea that you can think of which is true, what is the origin of the idea? why did they come up with it
and what kind of opposition did it have to overcome? mill says every idea started out as a minority idea,
invented by individual or small set of individuals, public opinion is almost always against it, takes time to
get a hearing and for the idea to start persuading people.
what good comes from forbidding an idea? an idea has withstood criticism, mill says that by being
criticized and surviving it that an idea becomes known to be true. this way it gets refined, sharpened and
modified, and it eventually becomes known to be true and survives. by immunizing an idea from
criticism = bad, go and subject it to criticism and see how it stands.
next argument - what if you could be certain that a particular idea is false, could you censor it then?
he says no, because ideas benefit from being challenged, and our thinking deteriorates into a
dogmatism and closed mindedness.
even when a body of experts decide that they know something, they can't be overly self certain about
their knowledge. insulting to decide for others what they're going to believe.
state has to recognize rationality of individual citizen. so the state should leave the individual free to have their own views on morality politics religion and the
ideas we organize our lives around.
important that we freely decide fundamental questions that orient our lives instead of just small
also we should not assume that true ideas will win out against censorship and persecution, no evidence
you would think people would push for true ideas to be legalized, no gurantee of this.
no guarantee that an idea is false, mill doesnt think the historical record is promising - socrates, the
majority voted that socrates was guilty and executed him, many other examples of this in history.
in history when theres an idea, people will generally build upon it and come up with a better idea
even when you think you know something, its counter productive to be dogmatic about it, it weakens
your knowledge to close it to criticism. you can always be slightly or radically mistaken.
it tends to happen that settled knowledge in one century becomes unsettled in the next one - so you
have to keep the conversation going
religion - history of religious heresy, state banned religious heresy. this even harms the non heretic
because then they are afraid to think in unconventional ways about religion - taking away the freedom
to think from fear of persecution. then everyone will be afraid, including those with very conventional
when you censor ideas, even just the crazy one, it causes a chilling affect on the mind for those who are
not crazy - makes them afraid to think in any terms that is not conventional
page 39 - no one can be a great thinker, first duty to follow his intellect, truth gains more even with
erroes by one who thinks for himself than by those who hold it true by those who don't suffer
themselves to think
mill thinks he lives in a highly conformist society.
mill says open mindedness is rare, dogmatism is the norm, the closed mind is much more common.
important that the state try to leave the market place of ideas as open as possible.
by the time the average person reaches 18 - they know they dont know everything but they know what
life is about, what their morals are, what their religious views are, they are where they need to be
intellectually - mill says this is impossible, we can never be where we need to be intellectually.
what matters to mill is nt just which of our beliefs are true/false but the manner/attitude towards our
he says even our true ideas are dead dogma - like supersitions once they're immunized from thinking
and criticism, once the mind closes around them, that knowledge stops inspiring us and influencing how
we live it just sits there. even ideas that are true, the best ideas, tend to be one sided and capture only part of the truth. the
whole truth is extremely elusive. the whole truth is usually shared by competing ideas.
this is how knowledge tends to arise - not from ignorance to secure possession of the whole truth -
instead they are subjected to crisitism, compete with each other, parts are added and changed, and
then they sort of emerge but its ongoing conversation jan 17
argues that if you want to ban hate speech, then such a law must be more conducive to the common
good than the absence of such a law. we cant justify a law preventing someone from holding an opinion
merely on the ground that it offends us or upsets us, this is a violation of individual liberty
he says rational being has to have freedom of mind freedom to express them and freedom of actions
individual should be free to pursue their own happiness, by nature the individual pursues their own
happiness - needs to be a limit - the harm principle - you can't violate the rights of other people, but
other than that - pursue your own happiness by your own