C. L. Ten
This volume covers most of the major philosophers of the nineteenth century. The most conspicuous exceptions such as Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, are included in other, more thematically focused volumes. Of the philosophers considered in this volume, the figure of John Stuart Mill looms large. He made contributions to a wide area of philosophy, although he is best known today for his defence of individual liberty and for his much-maligned attempt to ‘prove’ the utilitarian principle. The roots of his ethics are to be found in the writings of his father, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham. None of these was a professional philosopher, unlike many other philosophers of the century. The Mills worked for the East India Company, while Bentham was a man of independent means.
James Mill and Bentham were very concerned with practical issues of changing established social, political and legal institutions, exposing and rooting out the ‘sinister interests’ behind them. Bentham paid careful attention to language and especially to the language of law. Sinister interests flourish where unclear terms are used. We can make social progress only by trying first to translate the sentences in which these terms occur into equivalent sentences in which the vague terms are replaced by terms referring to entities that are real and perceptible by the senses. We can then be purged of those fictitious entities which cannot in this manner be replaced by real entities. Pleasure and pain are real entities which explain human motivation and also set the end of promoting the greatest happiness which all conduct should aim at. This standard of what we ought to do is the famous principle of utility.
Laws and constitutional arrangements should be framed in accordance with the principle. Bentham and James Mill supported democracy as the system of government that will ensure that the power of the rulers is not abused. But although they argued for the extension of the franchise, James Mill explicitly excluded women from the vote