John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life

John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life

John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life

John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life

Synopsis

The 'Art of Life' is John Stuart Mill's name for his account of practical reason. In this volume, eleven leading scholars elucidate this fundamental, but widely neglected, element of Mill's thought. Mill divides the Art of Life into three 'departments': 'Morality, Prudence or Policy, and sthetics'. In the volume's first section, Rex Martin, David Weinstein, Ben Eggleston, and Dale E. Miller investigate the relation between the departments of morality and prudence. Their papers ask whether Mill is a rule utilitarian and, if so, whether his practical philosophy must be incoherent. The second section contains papers by Jonathan Riley and Wendy Donner, who explore the relation between the departments of morality and aesthetics. They discuss issues ranging from supererogation to aesthetic pleasure and humanity's relationship with nature.

The papers in the third section consider the Art of Life's axiological first principle, the principle of utility. Elijah Millgram contends that Mill's own life refutes his claim that the Art of Life has a single axiological first principle. Philip Kitcher maintains that Mill has a dynamic axiology requiring us to continually refine our conception of the good. In the final section, three papers address what it means to put the Art of Life into practice. Robert Haraldsson locates an 'Art of Ethics' in On Liberty that is in tension with the Art of Life. Nadia Urbinati plumbs the classical roots of Mill's view of the good life. Finally, Colin Heydt develops Mill's suggestion that we regard our own lives as works of art.

Excerpt

John Stuart Mill’s contributions to ethics and political philosophy, such as his defenses of utilitarianism and liberalism, have long been influential and remain widely studied. Historically, less attention has been paid to the Art of Life, Mill’s overarching framework for understanding the different areas of practical thought as parts of a larger enterprise within which specific theories’ rationales and interrelations can be better understood. the reasons for this relative neglect of the Art of Life are not hard to find. Mill explicitly discusses it only briefly, and somewhat cryptically, three pages from the end of his daunting A System of Logic; moreover, it is relatively abstract and concerns matters on which most readers do not have prior intuitions of the kind that are readily engaged or challenged by the claims found in works such as Utilitarianism and On Liberty. But the Art of Life, in virtue of the organizing and authoritative role it plays in Mill’s thought, is essentially Mill’s theory of practical reason: his most general theory of what we have reason to do. Clearly, then, it merits close study. This collection of essays is intended as a contribution to such study and as a stimulus to further work on this concept, its role in Mill’s thought, and its usefulness for practical philosophy generally.

Mill lays the groundwork for introducing the Art of Life by distinguishing between science and art. Science, Mill writes, consists of claims asserting matters of fact. For example, the claim that steel has greater tensile . . .

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