John Stuart Mill was born in 1806, well after the Enlightenment and after the American Declaration of Independence, but his interpretation of the basic ideas of liberty, individual rights, women's rights, and other issues contribute to the continuing development of democratic ideas.

Mill was a philosopher, economist, and (like his friend Jeremy Bentham) was a proponent of Utilitarianism. Utilitarians believed that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness -- not just the happiness of the person involved in the action but also the happiness of everyone affected by it. In other words, things that produce the greatest happiness for the most people are good. He particularly approves of common sense morality. They are things people do without systematic thought.

This focus on the greatest good for the greatest number, is against John Locke's idea of individual rights. Mill believed that ethically, a person needs to be concerned for how the individual action affects society. Rights are ultimately founded on utility. In On Liberty Mill made the statement that self-protection alone could excuse or justify either the states tampering with the liberty of the individual or any personal interference with someone elses' freedom.

John Stuart Mill expressed believed that there is an intellectual elite. Without men of genius, society would become a "stagnant pool." He recognized that a person and society has to be trained properly to make use of the liberty he advocated. He was in total opposition to any government censorship. Without complete liberty of opinion, he insisted, civilizations would not develop. A society has to be free and open without suppressive government or private organizations.

Mill was also a believer in rights for women. He and his wife, Harriet, worked for women's suffrage in England. As a member of Parliament, Mill presented a petition for women to receive the ability to vote.

 

TOP OF PAGE BACK