Criticism: J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism: Liberty, Equality, Justice - Essay

John Stuart Mill

Jan Narveson (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Rights and Utilitarianism,” in New Essays on John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism, edited by Wesley E. Cooper, Kai Nielson, and Steven C. Patten, Canadian Association for Publishing in Philosophy, 1979, pp. 137-60.

[In the following essay, Narveson explores the conflict between justice and utility in the thought of J. S. Mill.]


Few questions about utilitarianism have been more vexed than that of its relation to rights (and its associated notion, justice). It is commonplace to hold that there are nonutilitarian rights, rights not founded on considerations of utility. And it is even thought that the very notion of...

(The entire section is 11526 words.)

D. A. Lloyd Thomas (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Rights, Consequences, and Mill on Liberty,” in Of Liberty, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 167-80.

[In the following essay, Thomas offers philosophical and moral justifications for Mill's liberty principle as contained in his essay, On Liberty.]

Mill says that the object of his essay On Liberty is to defend a certain principle, which I will call the ‘liberty principle’, and will take to say the following1: ‘It is permissible, in principle, for the state (through law) or society (through social pressure) to control the actions of individuals “only in respect to those actions of each,...

(The entire section is 6474 words.)

Mark Strasser (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mill's Moral View,” in The Moral Philosophy of John Stuart Mill: Toward Modifications of Contemporary Utilitarianism, Longwood Academic, 1991, pp. 23-53.

[In the following essay, Strasser evaluates Mill's moral stance and characterizes Mill primarily as an “act-utilitarian.”]

Both the quantity and the quality of pleasures must be considered in utility calculations. However, Mill's theory needs further explication, since we must discuss whose happiness should be promoted. For example, Mill might claim that an individual acts rightly if her action promotes her own happiness. Or, he might claim that an individual acts rightly if her action promotes...

(The entire section is 10684 words.)

Roger Crisp (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Utilitarianism and Equality: The Subjection of Women,” in Mill on Utilitarianism, Routledge, 1997, pp. 201-15.

[In the following essay, Crisp considers the implications of Mill's utilitarianism with regard to the equality of women.]


… [The] cornerstone of Mill's practical view is the principle of utility. According to this principle, the right act is that which maximizes overall welfare. Some of our acts involve our taking part in the practices of everyday, or ‘customary’, morality. Because my child is less likely to attack others if I encourage her to feel proud at her...

(The entire section is 5097 words.)

Henry R. West (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mill's ‘Proof’ of the Principle of Utility,” in Mill's Utilitarianism, edited by David Lyons, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997, pp. 85-98.

[In the following essay, West asserts the logical plausibility of Mill's proof of his utility principle.]

Utilitarianism, in every one of its forms or formulations, requires a theory for the evaluation of consequences. Whether the units of behavior being judged are acts, rules, practices, attitudes, or institutions, to judge them by their utility, that is, by their contribution to good or bad ends, requires a theory of what count as good or bad ends. In the philosophies of the classical utilitarians,...

(The entire section is 5902 words.)