Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy

How does Mill’s conception of a representative government attempt to prevent the ‘tyranny of the majority’ and dull the radical implications of utilitarianism?
With any essay on a political thinker it is probably a necessity to start with a brief introduction to their personal history and upbringing, not only to give a historical introduction to the thinker but the story of their early and later days of life give shape to just what events and conflicts fixed them into their political concepts and ways of thinking. John Mill was born on the 20th of May 1806. From an early age he was already in a political arena as his father James Mill was a politically focused man, James had been [1] “raised and educated to be the champion of the utilitarian philosophy worked out by his father and Jeremy Bentham [1].

With his father’s philosophical up bringing he was intent to bring his son up to also be well educated, James sought to make John have a diverse sphere of knowledge and so John [2] “was taught Greek from the age of three, Latin from eight and began the study of logic and political economy at ten” [2]. Mill’s exceptionally broad knowledge led to a sense of uncertainty in his thinking.
He began to query Bethamite beliefs that his father had brought him up to believe. In his confusion and thirst to find himself and form his own, and in his mind, right philosophical outlook on life many options were taken into consideration to help form the man we study today. Despite his lust for representative democracy, he feared the tyranny of the majority occurring. Mills was determined to ensure tyranny did not manifest itself.
So before we can properly delve into understanding Mill and his concepts to prevent tyranny and help dull down the radical implications of utilitarianism we need to first have a look at what utilitarianism actually is. Utilitarianism is a concept which attempts to use good utilities in life for the good of society. In the eyes of James Mill the thoughts of all in society were equal. He believed that happiness was a concept that was for all of society.
John Mill however was under the view that the views of the lower classes may not, in the longer term of things be good for their better interests. Despite being a utilitarian Mill was also very critical of the beliefs, he was intent on making his own form of utilitarianism keeping the ideas he admired and removing those that he disagreed with. He was under the opinion that utilitarianism as a concept could possibly obstruct the people academically, in his mind knowledge may not encourage as much good as other possible things, but in the long run could create a better future.
Mill feared tyranny attacking the upper classes of society due to lack of education and envy of the working classes. Mill saw the humanity as progressive and was under the opinion that in life our actions should be ones that would benefit human progression in society currently and for future generations. He saw education as a key part of life; education enables us to better ourselves, we need to work to be able to achieve the best lives for ourselves. Despite the fact that the uneducated and jobless in life have less stress and concerns in life, they do not have the benefits of a broad mind and the joys of the arts and the finer things in life.
Mill had intense fear of tyranny of the majority. Mill’s saw the elite as the citizens that provided furthered intellectual thinking and who advanced society. Mill saw an unbalance within society; the lower classes would be content and happy to live life in a selfishly happy manner, their stubbornness preventing the elite from improving society for all. Mill’s had a great appreciation for education and thought little of the uneducated.
With this fear of tyranny occurring Mill’s had to think what methods in his new way of thinking could help to prevent his biggest fear manifesting itself. As is already obvious Mill had an unmoving admiration for the educated elite, in his thinking it should only be the elite in control, they knew what was best and therefore should have the power over society in order to guide society in the best direction. He had somewhat, at least for the time, radical views on the roles in society.
He did not think that the ignorant and uneducated should have the right to vote, they would be of no benefit to the society in which they lived, the educated should be the only ones who should have the ability to vote as they were higher in his opinion. Another view he had on the voting system, which is rather surprising of the time, was that he wanted woman to have an equal share in the votes and power, the women had to be educated of course, but he saw no difference in the social status of males and females.
He wanted a representative form of government, he saw this as the most effective and stable way to achieve the best for society. Some of his radical ideas, which were viewed as taboo for the time led to distrust of him by certain people and probably lead to him losing his seat in parliament. Despite his open mindedness on the female aspect of politics he did not have the view that all opinions with in society were equal, he thought that the higher up in society a person was the more votes and say in politics one should receive, [3] “‘unskilled workers would have a single vote, skilled workers two votes, and graduates and members of the learned professions five or six votes.”[3], notably absent from that list is the uneducated and illiterate, he didn’t think that they should be given the right to vote, in Mill’s eyes the advantages and benefits in life for them, and future generations that the elite would provide would be more beneficial for them than letting them have a direct input in the decision making.
The elite with their highly educated minds could provide a safe and efficient life for society, one that that could evolve and develop to better itself as time progressed for future generations, Mill used this idea to back up his theory that the lower classes should not be allowed to have a say, he thought that they would be likely to make idiotic and short term lasting decisions that would in the long run be destructive to them, although the illiterate and unintelligent may not like the decisions forced upon them by the elite, the ideas would be better for them and future generations, the future generations being more educated and highbrow, he cared more for the feeling of the elite than that of lower society,[4] ”some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others.[4]
Mill’s form of democracy was very advanced for the time, and one that wanted to assure an effective and developed society. His distaste for the uneducated however is somewhat flawed by his belief that through political interaction people could be further educated, have general sense of well being and common sense, if he had such a belief and like of the elite and educated, could the uneducated not be improved and transformed to become part of the elite through political interactionIt appears to be due to his upbringing and father’s interests that his distaste for the lower classes was formed; throughout history it has been proven that upbringing can have an immense effect on the progression of key figures in history and their beliefs.
Mill attempts to prevent the tyranny of the majority and dull the radical implications of utilitarianism with his version of representative government. He rejected the old utilitarianism, the idea of the free market and allowing the uneducated and illiterate from participating in any political events. He had a view completely opposite to that of excluding the lower classes from a lot of things political or not. It is fairly obvious that Mill has a very high opinion of the well educated and intelligent within society, enough so to allow them to take on all political processes and to guide and shape the lives of themselves and the lowers within society, they could decide who they wanted to join their elite, who was educated enough to join them in their campaign and reject anyone they didn’t feel was worthy to join them.
Mill’s new view on utilitarianism turned it from quantitative utilitarianism, which relied on the size and strength of social groups, into qualitative utilitarianism, that viewed the quality of society rather than the quantity as vital. To attack the dull implications of utilitarianism representative democracy promotes the development and progress of society. The elite of society with their higher intelligence and knowledge, enables them to make the best decisions for progressive development for society as whole, beneficial decisions that will not only work for current generations but also for future ones. Mill did not side with Bentham’s utilitarianism; he viewed it as motionless and stale.
Under Bentham’s utilitarianism Mill did not see any chance of progression or beneficial development for society, Mill did not like the idea of the free market, he preferred the conceptual idea of poetic government, despite it did not seem to offer equal input and benefits to all of society, from high to low society alike; Mill disliked it for its acceptance of the unintelligent and lack of respect for higher society. He envisioned the future generations being driven to further themselves and their education, the qualitative template been passed down from generation to generation.
The children of today’s uneducated being the opposite of their parents, the thirst to further themselves built into them from the ruling elite. Mill had a very romantic and poetic view of politics and life in general, with his upbringing and encouragement by his father, he developed a love of knowledge, he looked down upon the uneducated within society, did not see them as equal or able to make the right decisions for themselves.
It was these factors in his life that encouraged his questioning of political life; he developed a passion to better society and thought that it would be impossible to achieve this under quantitative utilitarianism, so this lead to his way of thinking that would later form his theory of representative utilitarianism. His radical ideas of an iron elite that would represent society as a whole, whether or not they wanted their guidance, and would promote furthering intellectual exploration and develop a better future for the people, were born in his mind to try and prevent the tyranny of the majority and limit the dull implications of utilitarianism.

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[1] Hampsher-Monk, I. (2001). A history of modern political thought: major political thinkers from Hobbes to Marx. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
[2] Leach, R. R. (2008). The Politics Companion. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
[3] Heywood, A. (2007). Political Ideologies an Introduction. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.
[4] Heywood, A. (2007). Political Ideologies an Introduction. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

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