I loved Mill’s writings in this book. I found his discourse on individual liberty profound and inspiring. His discussion of utilitarianism is profound, and I enjoyed the roles played by Mill’s explanation of virtue, utility, justice, expediency, and happiness.
Various peers and mentors voiced disapproval for Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, but after studying Mill’s own words on the matter, it is my opinion that the criticisms I heard were misguided by a misunderstanding of the principle.
Mill says, “…the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”
The tendency is to assume Mill means that licentiousness or pleasure-seeking is acceptable, or even desirable, if the majority agrees. However, Mill points out that: “Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification.” A man has divine purpose, and God grants unto men faculties superior to those given to all other animal so that man might achieve his purpose. To seek animal pleasures and chain oneself to lust, man rejects his higher faculties and neglects his purpose. This behavior cannot result in happiness.
Mill explicitly states time and time again that happiness cannot exist without virtue, sound principles, and individual liberty.
It is my intention to discuss further Mill’s explanation of these various terms. This, I hope, will solidify my understanding of his philosophy as well as clarify some of the misunderstandings about Utilitarianism.
In the meantime, I invite you to perform an internet search for Mill’s essays and read them for yourself – they contribute much to the discussion of individual rights and the proper role of government.