Review: Mill’s Utilitarianism


John Stuart Mill

How do you review a basic text of every undergraduate ethics course*? It seems silly.

“Utilitarianism – pretty decent if you’re into canonical texts of the western philosophyical tradition”

Look, if you want to be well read, you have to read this one, kids. You don’t have to like it, but you have to read it. I like Mill. I like the rigor and clarity of his writing and though not a perfect man he was way ahead of the curve on individual rights, and I’m pretty into individual rights.

A personal note: utilitarianism, as a personal philosophy, was very popular amongst my hyper practical fellow Brooklyn College* philosophy students. Anything that could be seen as a calculation designed to get maximum benefits for the maximum number of people resonated with them. Of course Utilitarianism can lead on to some awful conclusions (you know the drill, toss 100 babies in the ocean to save 101 babies for example), but those kind of arguments and the fact that, at base, utilitarianism isn’t really a ethical theory, but rather a prescription for running an orderly society and (perhaps) a precursor to fascism, didn’t bother most of my classmates. That it didn’t bother them drove my Kantian ethics professor up the fucking wall. That was amusing. It can be enlightening to read philosophy at 8 o’cocl at night on a Tuesday with a room full of grown-ups desperate for a degree and pay raise. Puts a unique spin on things.


*A personal note: I went to college, at night, at the City University of New York, in my late twenties.


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