These stirrings are, as he points out, of greater meaning from the vantage-point of maturity than they were at the time. It is, nevertheless, this suppressed potentiality which distinguishes the young Mill from Bentham himself.
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Now Mill found his life devoid of happiness. I became persuaded, that my love of mankind, and of excellence for its own sake, had worn itself out. The cause of his state he finds in the education to which he had been subjected, which was, as he recognizes, the kind of education through which Bentham and James Mill looked for the progressive improvement of mankind.
These associations Mill now saw as artificial and mechanical, not natural. They are, in fact, deliberately created or cultivated prejudices or, to use a more modern terminology, states of conditioning. But to a large extent the agitation is in fact connected with the detached rational estimate.
There can be no doubt that the maturing Mill became intellectually dissatisfied with the narrow and rigorous schematization which both Bentham and his father delighted in. It is significant that as late as , Mill is still anxious to keep his heretical views from his father.
John Stuart Mill - Economist, Author - Biography
Some of the anguish, then, is undoubtedly that of a pillar of the faith, beset by intellectual doubts, and in constant communion with the founder of the church. But much in the Autobiography also suggests a less rational and perhaps even more powerful influence at work. This is an enormous sense of the impoverishment of his own nature, of the denial of a vital part of it, of a suppression of its full potentialities, through the narrowness of the system in which he had been educated.
I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation.
Mill’s Inconsistent Empiricism
And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis. It is from this dilemma that Wordsworth delivered him, as the last sentence quoted above shows. In his rebellion, emotional and intellectual, against Bentham, Mill sees himself, in retrospect, as if in violent reaction. He describes himself, during the reaction, as influenced by the Coleridgeans, and moving towards their position.
But the implications of his reaction against Bentham are neither clear-cut nor simple.
An analogy is suggested by his own description of his early enthusiasm for Benthamism as a religion. Heretics are not all of one sort: some reject the old religion totally and subscribe to another set of beliefs, some wish to abandon parts of the orthodox doctrine as excrescences or debasements or perversions, some question the definitions and doctrines and seek a re-definition. Mill had obviously been brought up to accept Benthamism as the full and orthodox doctrine of the utilitarian creed. It is clear that he saw himself as doing the latter. He has largely exemplified, and contributed very widely to diffuse, a tone of thinking, according to which any kind of action or any habit, which in its own specific consequences cannot be proved to be necessarily or probably productive of unhappiness.
He has ignored the question whether acts or habits not in themselves necessarily pernicious, may not form part of a pernicious character.
An Essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Illustrated)
This is vastly to over-simplify the real problem of politics. Since different stages demand the production of different effects, no one social organization can be fitted to all circumstances and characters. Edition: current; Page: [ xiii ] He ignores the profound effect of habit and imagination in securing political acquiescence, and the effect upon habit and imagination of continuity of political structure and especially its outward forms. He distinguished two kinds of interests, the self-regarding and the social. It is difficult to form the conception of a tendency more inconsistent with all rational hope of good for the human species, than that which must be impressed by such doctrines, upon any mind in which they find acceptance.
He is certainly defining virtue in terms of moral disposition, or motive, like the intuitionists. What Mill is doing, then, is substituting an account of moral sense in terms of his empirical psychology for that offered by the intuitionists. His reference to Hartley serves to remind us that Hartley also attempts to reconcile in this fashion, at least to some degree, the opposed empirical and intuitionist schools of moral philosophy. Where Bentham is successful, Mill argues, is in those areas which do not involve moral philosophy.
What we first note is the sharp separation of Bentham as moral philosopher from Bentham as analyst and proponent of the philosophy of law, the first being attacked as not only inadequate but positively pernicious, the second being praised almost without qualification.
The extent to which Bentham in fact modifies the rigorous pattern of Helvetius and Beccaria is minimized. What we have in this essay is, then, a point-by-point rejection of practically all the main elements in the structure of the system of Utilitarianism as conceived by Helvetius and Beccaria. It is clear that if their system is taken to be the pure and orthodox doctrine, Mill is at this moment an anti-Utilitarian. But it is also clear from the essay that this is not how the matter appeared to Mill. He insists rather that the structure he is attacking is not the true doctrine, but a false one raised entirely upon the foundations of a false psychology, a false view of human nature.
He is, in short, not the type of heretic who rejects the whole religion, but the type who sees himself, not as a heretic, but as the exponent of the true faith, warped in its transmission by the narrowness of vision of the prophets before him. The modern reader, with the less-guarded essay of to place beside the defence of , can savour the ironies of the situation. What would be thought of an assailant of Christianity, who should judge of its truth or beneficial tendency from the view taken of it by the Jesuits, or by the Shakers?
This caveat is repeatedly, but often unobtrusively, inserted into the attack on Sedgwick. It is clear to those who know the essay of that the caveat is directed against Bentham, that Bentham is the counterpart of the Jesuits and Shakers, but no explicit sign of this intention appears. Mill does, however, in spite of these ambiguities, insert some of those ideas that he sees as modifications or correctives of Benthamism.
By James Mill, as well as Bentham, was dead, and John Stuart Mill was free to write without wounding his father by his heresy or disloyalty. The essay on Bentham is his first public exercise of this freedom. In the context of the relatively long essay on Bentham, this first paragraph and the one following it create a peculiar effect. As we are now able to recognize, and as probably the reader of could recognize with the essay on Coleridge before him, the introductory paragraphs are not an introduction to the essay on Bentham.
We can now see, with the Autobiography available to us, why Mill thinks of Coleridge as well as Bentham at this point.
Any reader, however, is likely to feel that the treatment of Bentham in the essay contrasts in its severity with the praise in the introduction, and indeed Mill himself at a later date had misgivings. The praise he now gives Bentham goes a good deal further than Mill was willing to go in Now he discriminates and elaborates. But his importance is to be estimated fully neither by the quality of his critical analysis—which shows no subtlety or power of recondite analysis—nor by his achievement in the area in which he really excelled, the correction of practical abuses.
His importance lies in his widespread and lasting influence. And this spirit was not purely negative and critical; it included a positive and constructive element. But again, his real value lies not in those conclusions he took for truth, but in the method, combining critical analysis with positive synthesis. It was the doctrines that had been the stumbling-block.
As soon, however, as he begins to examine the method to which he has ascribed a revolutionary novelty, he is seized by fresh doubts. The peculiarity of this pattern is open to more than one explanation. It is at this point that Mill develops his theory of the half-truth, conceived generally in terms of polarity.
In many of the most natural and strongest feelings of human nature he had no sympathy; from many of its graver experiences he was altogether cut off; and the faculty by which one mind understands a mind different from itself, and throws itself into the feelings of that other mind, was denied him by his deficiency of Imagination. There can be no doubt that at this point he is recalling his own emotional crisis, and the release of self-knowledge he owed to Wordsworth. The system is not, then, valid even as a system of prudential and external ethics.
What of his social doctrine? It offers, in effect, an exact parallel with the ethics. It ignores national character as the ethics ignore individual character. It cannot deal with anything involving reference to moral influences. Bentham mistakenly thought the business part of human affairs was the whole of them, or at least all that the legislator and moralist are concerned with. The greatness is entirely as a critical philosopher, except in the philosophy of law.
As in , here he can praise Bentham unreservedly. Nor let that which he did be deemed of small account because its province was limited. As Mill well knows, in the mathematical juggling implied in his image, the area enclosed by his parallel lines will remain an infinite area however closely the distance between the lines approaches zero without reaching it. But new criticisms are introduced. These questions Bentham does not seriously concern himself with.
Of the three great questions in government, then, Bentham virtually ignores two, and supplies a questionable answer for the third. The Radical philosophy which has become so dominant through his influence places all its faith in the rule of a numerical majority, a faith Mill was increasingly inclined to question. The doctrine, in short, by which Benthamism aims at producing a just yet stable society, will end by producing a static one, and the static society becomes an unjust society.
The shift from blame to praise of Bentham is accompanied, one notes, by a shift in interpretation of the doctrine of identity of interests: it is no longer the identity and identification of the interests of the individual and of the community, but of the interests of the rulers and of the community. Then finally, Mill turns to the subject in which we are most interested, and which he gives every evidence of having deliberately avoided.
It is here also of very great importance. Obviously, if the principle of utility is irrelevant to an estimate of Bentham, Bentham is irrelevant to an estimate of the principle of utility. The process of separation of Bentham from the doctrine is complete. This was, then, a psychological necessity for Bentham; he had to have a system.