My Philosopher: John Stuart Mill

Ian Knechtle

Media and Ethics

My Philosopher



John Stuart Mill was born in 1806 in London and was the son of Scottish philosopher, historian and economist James Mill. John was strictly educated throughout his life by his father. His father did not allow him to interact with other children his age and taught him ferociously. At age three he was taught Greek, and by the time he was a young teenager he had read and studied multiple languages, understood and knew many philosophers of new and old, and was tremendous in science, math, economics, philosophy, and other issues. He held deep intellectual talks with famous economists and philosophers as well as teaching others what he knew. He was an incredible poet and had an incredible mind. He studied in France and England alongside connections with his father. His rigorous upbringing did lead to him having a nervous breakdown and other mental issues, but he eventually recovered. His wife died after only seven years of marriage but she was a very knowledgeable woman as well. John was a big promoter of women’s rights and was the first person in the history of Parliament to call for women to have the right to vote.

John was a big advocate and contributor to utilitarianism. He believed that the greatest good for the greatest amount of people is best. Specifically, John added the “qualitative separation of pleasure.” This new view to utilitarianism expressed that not all forms of pleasure are equal. Mill argued that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to physical pleasures. The famous example he used for this was that it is “better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” Being unaware of what true and higher pleasure was due to lack of education and knowledge was something that John warned against. He pointed out that people who are unaware of these different forms of pleasure might only know the lower level of pleasure, which is physical. This physical form of pleasure might bring the greatest amount of good though, so that would be something that society should embrace. These beliefs lead to John wanting university graduates possessing more voting power. He wanted to ensure that the educated were given the loudest voice so that they could determine what was best for society. He pointed out that the uneducated most likely have not experienced higher and lower levels of pleasure, so they will most likely agree with what they are used to, which is lower level pleasures. These beliefs also tied into his background it seems. His father did not want him interacting with children who were not as educated and he wanted John to be incredibly educated so that he could make the best decisions.

John was also very involved in economic and political philosophy as well as justice and rights of equality. He held a high position at the University of St. Andrews, which allowed him to educate many. Looking deeper into John’s work would benefit anyone trying to understand ethics. Especially with his work in the greater good and utilitarianism, he has some very intellectual thoughts and examples.

Driver, J. (2009, March 27). The History of Utilitarianism. Retrieved February 12, 2015, from

Heydt, C. (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved February 12, 2015, from

John Stuart Mill. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from

Wilson, F. (2002, January 3). John Stuart Mill. Retrieved February 11, 2015, from

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