Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One of the geniuses of the modern era, John Stuart Mill coined the term “utilitarianism,” the subject of this brief, five-part essay. By doing so, he reaffirmed and redefined the philosophical doctrine espousing the practical, useful idea that the rightness of an action may be measured by whether it achieves the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number. It was a doctrine around which a small but influential group of English radical reformers—utilitarians—rallied, Mill among them. All of Mill’s intellectual activities were calculated to effect changes in British society. When Utilitarianism was published in 1863, Mill already enjoyed international recognition as a distinguished political economist. He was a precocious polymath, however, and his fame rested equally on his contributions to political theory and to political philosophy. On Liberty, for example, which he published in 1859, just a few years before Utilitarianism, stands as one of the greatest expositions on civil liberty ever written and endures as an assertion of cultural freedom.
John Stuart Mill imbibed his utilitarian philosophy and his extraordinary education from his father, James Mill. James Mill, in turn, had been a companion to, and a devoted disciple of, Jeremy Bentham. Although Bentham acknowledged intellectual debts to various European thinkers, including Claude-Adrien Helvétius, Cesare Beccaria, Voltaire, and Jean le Rond...
(The entire section is 1848 words.)
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