Mill on Justice (Philosophers in Depth)

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History of Political Thought. Retrieved 11 June Mises Institute ed. Max Weber and His Contempories. Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 23 July On Liberty is a rational justification of the freedom of the individual in opposition to the claims of the state to impose unlimited control and is thus a defense of the rights of the individual against the state. Retrieved 31 July UK Parliament. The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism. Beacon Press.

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Rothbard 1 February Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 21 January John Stuart Mill: A Biography. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April Writings on India. Edited by John M. Robson, Martin Moir and Zawahir Moir. Mill's Indians after the "Mutiny " ". Political Research Quarterly. New Quest , no. The London Gazette. Sher, ed.

Secular Review. Raeder John Stuart Mill and the Religion of Humanity. University of Missouri Press. Comte welcomed the prospect of being attacked publicly for his irreligion, he said, as this would permit him to clarify the nonatheistic nature of his and Mill's "atheism". Oxford University Press.

A letter John wrote from Forde Abbey when he was eight years old casually mentions in his general report of his activities that he too had been to Thorncombe parish church, so even when Bentham had home-field advantage, the boy was still receiving a Christian spiritual formation. Indeed, Mill occasionally attended Christian worship services during his teen years and thereafter for the rest of his life. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty". Retrieved 16 July Gertrude Himmelfarb, UK: Penguin, , pp. On Liberty. Ticknor and Fields. Mill's Career at the East India Company". In Crisp, Roger ed.

The Oxford handbook of the history of ethics. The Modern Library. February — via www. Engels, and Michael K. Barnes and Noble, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Economic Inquiry. Archived from the original PDF on 26 June Ryan, Alan. Utilitarianism and other essays. London: Penguin Books. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 4 May A history of economic theory and method 4th ed. Waveland Press [Long Grove, Illinois]. John Stuart Mill and Representative Government. Princeton University Press, The Pursuit of Certainty. Cambridge University Press, p.

Participation and Democratic Theory. Mill's Political Thought , eds. Urbinati and A. Zakaras Cambridge University Press, , pp. Ecological Economics. Retrieved 8 August Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 1 September Retrieved 1 November Encarta Book of Quotations. Brink, David O. Philosophy and Public Affairs. Clifford G. Christians and John C. John Stuart Mill's Political Philosophy. Continuum Studies in British Philosophy. Bloomsbury Publishing. George, Roger Z. Intelligence and the national security strategist: enduring issues and challenges. Harrington, Jack New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Mill, John Stuart: Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Liberalism portal Politics portal. There is one crucial difficulty with the interpretation of Mill as an indirect act utilitarian regarding moral obligation. If the function of rules was in fact only epistemic, as suggested by indirect act utilitarianism, one would expect that the principle of utility — when the epistemic conditions are satisfactory — can be and should be directly applied.

But Mill is quite explicit here. From an act utilitarian view regarding moral obligation, this is implausible. Why should one be morally obliged to follow a rule of which one positively knows that its observance in a particular case will not promote general utility? As mentioned, Mill arrives at a different conclusion. His position can be best understood with recourse to the distinction between the theory of objective rightness and the theory of moral obligation introduced in the last section.

Seen from the perspective of an all-knowing and impartial observer, it is — in regard to the given description — objectively right to perpetrate the homicide. However, moral laws, permissions, and prohibitions are not made for omniscient and impartial observers, but instead for cognitively limited and partial beings like humans whose actions are mainly guided by acquired dispositions. Their capacity to recognize what would be objectively right is imperfect; and their ability to motivate themselves to do the right thing is limited.

Because humans cannot reliably recognize objective rightness and, in critical cases, cannot bring themselves to act objectively right, they are not obliged to maximize happiness. For ought implies can. In regard to the given description, the fact that the assassination of a human would be objectively right does not imply that the assassination of this human would be morally imperative or allowed.

In other words: Mill differentiates between the objectively right act and the morally right act. With this he can argue that the assassination would be forbidden theory of moral obligation. To enact a forbidden action is morally wrong. Roughly said, actions are right insofar as they facilitate happiness, and wrong insofar as they result in suffering. This is important. Mill emphasizes in many places that virtuous actions can exhibit a negative balance of happiness in a singular case. But as we have seen, this is not his view. Virtuous actions are morally right, even if they are objectively wrong under particular circumstances.

Accordingly, the First Formula is not to be interpreted as drafting a moral duty. It is a general statement about what makes actions right reasonable, expedient or wrong. The First Formula gives a general characterization of practical reason. Subsets of right ones are morally right actions; subsets of wrong actions are morally wrong. We generally believe that not all actions must be judged in regard to a moral point of view.

This does not exclude us from valuing actions, which are not in the moral realm, in regard to prudence. Many artists would presumably not be comfortable with the thesis that good art arises from the goal of facilitating the happiness of humankind. This however is not what Mill means. Apart from cases of conflict between secondary principles, the First Formula does not guide action. Just as Mill speaks in a moral context about how noble characters will not strive to maximize general happiness CW 8, , he could argue in an aesthetic context that artists should work from a purely aesthetic point of view.

The rules of artistic judgments, nonetheless, are justified through their contribution to the flourishing of human life. To summarize the essential points: Mill can be characterized as an act utilitarian in regard to the theory of objective rightness, but as a rule utilitarian in regard to the theory of moral obligation. He defines morality as a system of rules that is protected by sanctions.

Mill does not write, as one might expect, that only the action which leads to the best consequences is right. The actual formula, in contrast, has to do with gradual differences right in proportion. Actions which add to the sum of happiness in the world but fail to maximize happiness thus can be right, even if to a lesser degree.

This is confusing insofar as it would be unreasonable to prefer that which is worse to that which is better. For every good there is a better that one should reasonably choose until one succeeds to the best. If the First Formula expresses the ideal of practical reason, then one should expect that it requires maximization. He probably does not want to suggest that an agent should not choose the best local option. But the local best option must not represent the objective global best. This may be the reason why Mill does not refer to maximization in the formula of utility.


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According to the formula of utility, actions are more or less correct insofar as they facilitate happiness CW 10, It is doubtlessly not the same to say that an action is right if it actually facilitates happiness, or to say that it is right if it tends to facilitate happiness. The model seems to be roughly this: At the neutral point of the preference scale, actions have the tendency — in regard to the status quo — to neither increase nor decrease the mass of utility in the world. All actions that tend to facilitate happiness are right, all actions that tend to be harmful are wrong, but all are not in the same measure.

An action has a high positive value on the scale of preference, if its tendency to facilitate happiness is high. An action has highly negative value on the preference scale, if its tendency to evoke unhappiness is high. That an action tends to produce a particular consequence means that this consequence has a high probability. Mill could have wanted to say that an action is right in proportion to the probability with which it promotes happiness. This makes sense when we compare options that produce the same amount of happiness.

But what about cases in which two actions produce different amounts of pleasure? One plausible answer is that both dimensions must be regarded: the amount of happiness and the probability of its occurrence. Action A is better than action B , if the expected happinessfor A is greater than the expected happiness for B. The best action is one that maximizes the amount of expected happiness.

In the final chapter of Utilitarianism , Mill turns to the sentiment of justice.

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Actions that are perceived as unjust provoke outrage. The spontaneity of this feeling and its intensity makes it impossible for it to be ignored by the theory of morals. Mill considers two possible interpretations of the source of the sentiment of justice: first of all, that we are equipped with a sense of justice which is an independent source of moral judgment; second, that there is a general and independent principle of justice.

He names the integration of justice the only real difficulty for utilitarian theory CW 10, Mill splits this problem of integration into three tasks: The first consists in explaining the intensity and spontaneity of the sentiment of justice. The second task is to make plausible that the various types of judgments about justice can be traced back to a systematic core; and the third task consists in showing that the principle of utility constructs this core. In a nutshell, Mill explains the sentiment of justice as the sublimation of the impulse to take revenge for perceived mortifications of all kinds.

If it is known that one will not accept interventions in spheres of influence and interest, the probability of such interventions dwindles.

John Stuart Mill: Ethics

The preparedness to take revenge tends to deter aggression in the first place. Thus, a reputation for vindictiveness — at first glance an irrational trait — arguably has survival value. This helps to explain why the sentiment is so widespread and vehement. Our sentiment of justice, for Mill, is based on a refinement and sublimation of this animal desire. This natural extension of the impulse of revenge with the help of the social feelings represents a step in the direction of cultivating and refining human motivation.

People begin to feel outrage when the interests of the members of their tribe are being violated or when shared social rules are being disregarded. Gradually, sympathy becomes more inclusive. Humans discover that co-operation with people outside the tribe is advantageous. As soon as humans begin to think about which parts of the moral code of a society are justified and which parts are not, they inevitably begin to consider consequences. This often occurs in non-systematic, prejudiced or distorted ways.

Across historical periods of times, the correct ideas of intrinsic good and moral rightness will gradually gain more influence. Judgments about justice approximate progressively the requirements of utilitarianism: The rules upon which the judgments about justice rest will be assessed in light of their tendency to promote happiness. According to Mill, when we see a social practice or a type of action as unjust, we see that the moral rights of persons were harmed. The thought of moral rights is the systematic core of our judgments of justice. Rights breed perfect obligations, says Mill.

Moral rights are concerned with the basic conditions of a good life. To have a moral right means to have something that society is morally required to guard either through the compulsion of law, education or the pressure of public opinion CW 10, Insofar as moral rights secure the basis of our existence, they serve our natural interest in self-preservation — this is the reason why their harm calls forth such intense emotional reactions.

The interplay of social feelings and moral education explains, in turn, why we are not only upset by injustices when we personally suffer, but also when the elemental rights of others are harmed. This motivates us to sanction the suffering of others as unjust. But they do not exhaust the moral realm. There are imperfect obligations which have no correlative right CW 10, The thesis that moral rights form the systematic core of our judgments of justice is by no means unique to utilitarianism. Many people take it to be evident that individuals have absolute, inalienable rights; but they doubt that these rights can be grounded in the principle of utility.

Intuitionists may claim that we recognize moral rights spontaneously, that we have intuitive knowledge of them. In order to reject such a view, Mill points out that our judgments of justice do not form a systematic order. If we had a sense of justice that would allow us to recognize what is just, similar to how touch reveals forms or sight reveals color, then we would expect that our corresponding judgments would exhibit a high degree of reliability, definitude and unanimity.

But experience teaches us that our judgments regarding just punishments, just tax laws or just remuneration for waged labor are anything but unanimous. The intuitionists must therefore mobilize a first principle that is independent of experience and that secures the unity and consistency of our theory of justice. So far they have not succeeded. Mill sees no suggestion that is plausible or which has been met with general acceptance.

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord once remarked that Mill seems to answer by example the question of how many serious mistakes a brilliant philosopher can make within a brief paragraph Sayre-McCord , For the assessment of the proof two introductory comments are helpful. These reasons are empirical and touch upon the careful observation of oneself and others. More cannot be done and should not be expected in a proof re ultimate ends. A further introductory comment concerns the basis of observation through which Mill seeks to support utilitarianism. In moral philosophy the appeal to intuitions plays a prominent role.

They are used to justify moral claims and to check the plausibility of moral theories. The task of thought-experiments in testing ethical theories is analogous to the observation of facts in testing empirical theories.

John Stuart Mill on Five Conceptions of Justice - Philosophy Core Concepts

This suggests that intuitions are the right observational basis for the justification of first moral principles. Mill, however, was a fervent critic of intuitionism throughout his philosophical work. Mill considered the idea that truths can be known a priori , independently of observation and experience, to be a stronghold of conservatism. His argument against intuitionistic approaches to moral philosophy has two parts. The first part points out that intuitionists have not been able to bring our intuitive moral judgments into a system.

There is neither a complete list of intuitive moral precepts nor a basic principle of morality which would found such a list CW 10, The second part of the Millian argument consists in an explanation of this result: What some call moral intuition is actually the result of our education and present social discourse.

Society inculcates us with our moral views, and we come to believe strongly in their unquestionable truth. There is no system, no basic principle in the moral views of the Victorian era though. In The Subjection of Women, Mill caustically criticizes the moral intuitions of his contemporaries regarding the role of women. He finds them incompatible with the basic principles of the modern world, such as equality and liberty. What we need, Mill contends, is a basis of observation that verifies a first principle, a principle that is capable of bringing our practice of moral judgments into order.

His argument for the utilitarian principle — if not a deductive argument, an argument all the same — involves three steps. Let us turn to the first step of the argument. Upon an initial reading it seems in fact to have little success. Can a more evident logical fallacy be given than the claim that something is worthy of striving for because it is factually sought?

But Mill in no way believes that the relation between desirable and desired is a matter of definition. He is not saying that desirable objects are by definition objects which people desire; he writes instead that what people desire is the only evidence for what is desirable. If we want to know what is ultimately desirable for humans, we have to acquire observational knowledge about what humans ultimately strive for.

Does Mill claim here that each person tries to promote the happiness of all? This seems to be patently wrong. In a famous letter to a Henry Jones, he clarifies that he did not mean that every person, in fact, strives for the general good. It is unclear what it means that general happiness is the good of the aggregate of all persons. Neither each person, nor the aggregate of all persons seem to strive for the happiness of all. If happiness as such is valuable, it is not unreasonable to promote the well-being of all sentient beings.

With this, the second step of the argument is complete. The result may seem meager at first. That it is not unreasonable to promote the happiness of all appears to be no particularly controversial claim. What Mill fails to show is that each person has most reason to promote the general good. One should note, however, that the aim of the proof is not to answer the question why one should be moral.

According to needs -based theories, goods, especially such basic goods as food, shelter and medical care, should be distributed to meet individuals' basic needs for them. Marxism is a needs-based theory, expressed succinctly in Marx's slogan " from each according to his ability, to each according to his need ". In Anarchy, State, and Utopia , Robert Nozick argues that distributive justice is not a matter of the whole distribution matching an ideal pattern , but of each individual entitlement having the right kind of history.

It is just that a person has some good especially, some property right if and only if they came to have it by a history made up entirely of events of two kinds:. If the chain of events leading up to the person having something meets this criterion, they are entitled to it: that they possess it is just, and what anyone else does or doesn't have or need is irrelevant.

On the basis of this theory of distributive justice, Nozick argues that all attempts to redistribute goods according to an ideal pattern, without the consent of their owners, are theft. In particular, redistributive taxation is theft. Some property rights theorists like Nozick also take a consequentialist view of distributive justice and argue that property rights based justice also has the effect of maximizing the overall wealth of an economic system.

They explain that voluntary non-coerced transactions always have a property called Pareto efficiency. The result is that the world is better off in an absolute sense and no one is worse off. Such consequentialist property rights theorists argue that respecting property rights maximizes the number of Pareto efficient transactions in the world and minimized the number of non-Pareto efficient transactions in the world i. The result is that the world will have generated the greatest total benefit from the limited, scarce resources available in the world.

Further, this will have been accomplished without taking anything away from anyone unlawfully. According to the utilitarian, justice requires the maximization of the total or average welfare across all relevant individuals. Utilitarianism, in general, argues that the standard of justification for actions, institutions, or the whole world, is impartial welfare consequentialism , and only indirectly, if at all, to do with rights , property , need , or any other non-utilitarian criterion.

These other criteria might be indirectly important, to the extent that human welfare involves them. But even then, such demands as human rights would only be elements in the calculation of overall welfare, not uncrossable barriers to action. Theories of retributive justice are concerned with punishment for wrongdoing, and need to answer three questions:.

This section considers the two major accounts of retributive justice, and their answers to these questions. Utilitarian theories look forward to the future consequences of punishment, while retributive theories look back to particular acts of wrongdoing, and attempt to balance them with deserved punishment. Punishment fights crime in three ways:. So, the reason for punishment is the maximization of welfare, and punishment should be of whomever, and of whatever form and severity, are needed to meet that goal.

This may sometimes justify punishing the innocent, or inflicting disproportionately severe punishments, when that will have the best consequences overall perhaps executing a few suspected shoplifters live on television would be an effective deterrent to shoplifting, for instance. It also suggests that punishment might turn out never to be right, depending on the facts about what actual consequences it has.

The retributivist will think consequentialism is mistaken. If someone does something wrong we must respond by punishing for the committed action itself, regardless of what outcomes punishment produces. Wrongdoing must be balanced or made good in some way, and so the criminal deserves to be punished. It says that all guilty people, and only guilty people, deserve appropriate punishment. This matches some strong intuitions about just punishment: that it should be proportional to the crime, and that it should be of only and all of the guilty.

Restorative justice also sometimes called "reparative justice" is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims and offenders, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community rather than the state. Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability. Some modern philosophers have argued that Utilitarian and Retributive theories are not mutually exclusive.

For example, Andrew von Hirsch , in his book Doing Justice , suggested that we have a moral obligation to punish greater crimes more than lesser ones. However, so long as we adhere to that constraint then utilitarian ideals would play a significant secondary role. It has been argued [19] that 'systematic' or 'programmatic' political and moral philosophy in the West begins, in Plato 's Republic , with the question, 'What is Justice?

Such approaches cite various examples of injustice, as problems which a theory of justice must overcome. A number of post-World War II approaches do, however, challenge that seemingly obvious dualism between those two concepts.


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Justice is the concept of cardinal virtues , of which it is one. Metaphysical justice has often been associated with concepts of fate , reincarnation or Divine Providence , i. The association of justice with fairness is thus historically and culturally inalienable.

Law raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. There is an old saying that ' All are equal before the law '. The belief in equality before the law is called legal egalitarianism. In criticism of this belief, the author Anatole France said in , "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.

John Stuart Mill on Economic Justice and the Alleviation of Poverty

Equality before the law is one of the basic principles of classical liberalism. Jews , Muslims and Christians traditionally believe that justice is a present, real, right, and, specifically, governing concept along with mercy , and that justice is ultimately derived from and held by God.

According to the Bible , such institutions as the Mosaic Law were created by God to require the Israelites to live by and apply His standards of justice. The Hebrew Bible describes God as saying about the Judeo-Christian patriarch Abraham : "No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; The Psalmist describes God as having "Righteousness and justice [as] the foundation of [His] throne; The New Testament also describes God and Jesus Christ as having and displaying justice, often in comparison with God displaying and supporting mercy Matthew In criminal law , a sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge -ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function.

Laws may specify the range of penalties that can be imposed for various offenses, and sentencing guidelines sometimes regulate what punishment within those ranges can be imposed given a certain set of offense and offender characteristics. The most common purposes of sentencing in legal theory are:. In civil cases the decision is usually known as a verdict , or judgment, rather than a sentence. Civil cases are settled primarily by means of monetary compensation for harm done " damages " and orders intended to prevent future harm for example injunctions.

Under some legal systems an award of damages involves some scope for retribution, denunciation and deterrence, by means of additional categories of damages beyond simple compensation, covering a punitive effect, social disapprobation, and potentially, deterrence , and occasionally disgorgement forfeit of any gain, even if no loss was caused to the other party. Evolutionary ethics and an argued evolution of morality suggest evolutionary bases for the concept of justice.

Biosocial criminology research argues that human perceptions of what is appropriate criminal justice are based on how to respond to crimes in the ancestral small-group environment and that these responses may not always be appropriate for today's societies.

Studies at UCLA in have indicated that reactions to fairness are "wired" into the brain and that, "Fairness is activating the same part of the brain that responds to food in rats This is consistent with the notion that being treated fairly satisfies a basic need". In a world where people are interconnected but they disagree, institutions are required to instantiate ideals of justice.

Justice is an ideal the world fails to live up to, sometimes due to deliberate opposition to justice despite understanding, which could be disastrous. The question of institutive justice raises issues of legitimacy , procedure , codification and interpretation , which are considered by legal theorists and by philosophers of law. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.