JS Mill (Qualitative Utilitarian)

Mill was raised on strictly Benthamism principles by his father, philosopher James Mill, and devoted his life to the defence and promotion of the general welfare. He was a Utilitarian, liberal, Democrat, pluralist, socialist, feminist and Naturalist.

All pleasures are not the same

He disagreed that all differences in pleasures could be quantified.

He categorised pleasure into two types

  • Of higher pleasures: largely intellectual- making a good poem by a poet, visiting a temple, mosque, tourist place etc.
  • lower pleasures: largely bodily- seeking pleasure in smoking, drinking, meat-eating, going to taj hotel, visiting Thailand for massage.

That’s why he argued that:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied

“Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”

As per Mill, pain (or even the sacrifice of pleasure) is also justified if it directly contributes to the greater good of all.

Now there a question was raised about how one pursues higher good for this he devised rule orientation.

The Rule-Utilitarianism

Mill agreed with Bentham that the moral thing to do is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number but he reasoned that a common/ordinary man does not have the time to calculate pleasure or pain accurately in every instance. Hence, there should be some basic rules in place to help us maximise pleasure and minimise pain.

Principle of Harm

It is the first and most important rule, which advocates that the only actions that can be avoided are those which cause harm. In other words, a person is free to do whatever he wants as long as he does not harm others.


It is the extended version of the first rule which says that human beings are wholly part of nature and hence this earth belongs to everyone and every species has a right to live on this planet. Thus, he concluded that just because of your greed, you can’t harm their species. This principle became the philosophical basis of environmental ethics.

If the actions of individuals in society are based on some fixed and binding rules such rules are aimed at the maximising pleasure of self without harming the rest of others, this type of action is based on consideration the of interests of others and is called altruistic hedonism.

Altruistic/universalistic hedonism

He said that individual action should not harm society. It means that good for society is good for individuals. It means he advocated altruistic/universalistic hedonism.

Altruistic/universalistic hedonism

Mill’s defence of free expression/liberty

He considered that most opinions are neither completely true nor completely false, he argues that allowing free expression may help in discovering the truth in the true sense. He also accepted that searching for and discovering the truth can help in broadening one’s knowledge. He contended that even if an opinion is incorrect, understanding the truth can be improved by refuting the error.

He was also concerned about the suppression of minority views, Mill argued in favour of free speech on political grounds, stating that it is a necessary component for a representative government to have to empower debate over public policy. Mill also argued persuasively that freedom of expression promotes talents, personal growth, self-realization and creativity.


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