Sample Philosophy Paper on John Stuart Mill (Morality and Utilitarianism)

John Stuart Mill (Morality and Utilitarianism)

The nineteenth century’s most influential English language philosopher was John Stuart Mill (1806–73). He was a naturalist, a utilitarian, and a nationalist, whose work discusses the implications of a systematic empiricist perspective. He sought to blend the best of the Enlightenment thought of the eighteenth century with the recently evolving trends of Romantic and historical theory of the nineteenth century (Macleod 1). The System of Logic (1843), On Liberty (1859), Utilitarianism (1861) and An Analysis of the Philosophy of Sir William Hamilton are his most valuable books (1865).

One thing I found interesting about Mill was that he started his academic journey at an early age under the tutelage of his formidable father, himself a historian and economist, beginning his studies of Greek at the age of three and Latin at eight. From that moment I learned about this, I knew Mill’s theories re the best since he started at an early age. Mill’s father was a supporter of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory, and in his middle teens, Mill started to accept it himself.  Later, he tended to believe that his intense intellectual experience had damaged his emotional ability to cultivate his mind, but not his emotions. This perhaps culminated in his extension of the utilitarian thought of Bentham.

John Stuart Mill Life

John Stuart Mill was born to Harriet Barrow and James Mill in Penton Ville, then a northern district of London, on 20 May 1806. A Scotsman, James Mill was educated at Edinburgh University, educated by Dugald Stewart, among others and moved to London in 1802, where he was to become a friend of Jeremy Bentham and the Philosophical Liberals and an influential ally. In order to prepare him for the role of the next wave in radicalism, John’s extraordinary education, famously recounted in his Autobiography, was carried out. It equipped him well for this at least. Mill had mastered much of the classical corpus by the age of twelve, along with algebra, Euclid, and the main Scottish and English scholars, beginning with Greek at age three and Latin at age eight. He studied political economics, logic, and calculus in his early adolescent years, using his free time as an amusement to digest treatises on experimental science (Macleod 8). He began writing on the key treatises on philosophy, psychology and government at the age of fifteen after returning from a year-long trip to France, a country he would finally call home. All this was carried out under his father’s close daily guidance, with young John taking major responsibility for his siblings’ schooling.

John Stuart Mill Thoughts

Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill, is a theory developed to endorse and respond to myths regarding the importance of utilitarianism as a moral theory. Mill describes utilitarianism as a philosophy that “actions are good in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Macleod 2) Mill defines enjoyment as enjoyment and the lack of suffering. He claims that in nature and level, enjoyment will vary, and that pleasures embedded in one’s higher faculties should be weighted rather than base pleasures. In addition, Mill believes that the pursuit of goals and ends by persons, such as virtuous life, should be counted as part of their satisfaction.

Mill claims that utilitarianism corresponds with “natural” emotions arising from the relational existence of humanity (Eggleston 4). Therefore, individuals would automatically internalize these norms as legally binding if society were to accept utilitarianism as an ethic Mill believes that the primary foundation of morality is pleasure, and that people never seen anything but happiness. By demonstrating that all the other objects of people’s desire are either means to pleasure, or included in the concept of happiness, he supports this argument. Mill states at length that the sense of justice is simply based on utility, and that rights only exist because human happiness demands them.

Morality; the utilitarian maximization assumes that we are morally bound to bring on the most pleasure we can that we breach our moral obligations as we fall short of this mark (Mill 7). Yet Mill strongly insists that under the pain of religious censure, we are not obligated to do whatever we can. Mill believes in the existence of a class of actions of supererogation.  Although it can be highly commendable to do the most good we can, and while there may be a justification for doing the most good we can, failure to do so is not the criterion that determines between noble and unethical acting. Instead, Mill argues, the definition of moral wrongdoing is linked to that of retribution.

“An act is morally immoral, because if it’s guilty, that is, if it’s right to fault an agent for committing that act. The problem of course, is what justifies certain levels of guilt” (Mill 10). In general, interpreters have led Mill to conclude that considerations of utilitarian utility decide whether we can fault a person for any given act, and whether, thus that act is morally wrong.  An act is incorrect, then, if it would be beneficial to overall utility to punish a person for committing that act, or if it would be productive to overall utility under a law-focused view for there to be a rule that individuals performing acts of that nature were subject to blame.

I am interested in finding out more about what inspired Mill to believe in compulsory schooling. While he was largely self-taught, Mill himself had a comprehensive schooling. He studied classical Greek at the age of three, and by the age of eight, he had mastered Latin. He believed that well-educated persons were better prepared to conduct themselves in society in a moral manner, and so he supported state examinations that all individuals would have to master to a certain degree. Mill was not a public education advocate; he felt it abused the liberties of citizens to compel them to go to one state-approved set of schools. Instead, he proposed a voucher initiative that would give more options to individuals in which schools they would go to.




Eggleston, Ben, and Dale E. Miller, eds. The Cambridge companion to utilitarianism. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 1-16

Macleod, Christopher. “John Stuart Mill.” (2016).2-30 Retrieved from:

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty, Utilitarianism, and other essays. Oxford University Press, USA, 2015. 1-20

Mill, John Stuart. The basic writings of John Stuart Mill: On liberty, the subjection of women and utilitarianism. Modern Library, 2010. 10-14