In John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, there is an evident stress between the concept of justice and the concept of utility. The connection between the two is proved by Mill at the end of of his philosophical text where he explains that overall, justice is necessary for utility.
Mill begins his explanation by introducing five key obligations of justice. First off, it is unjust for people to be deprived of their personal liberty, property, and other legal rights which all of humanity is born with. Next, it is only just that people are also given moral rights and unjust for those to be deprived of them as well. Mill states that justice is a very simple concept in which that is people who perform good acts will receive good, while those who perform bad will receive bad. In this way, Mill has justice as a clear cut concept. Also, it is unjust to “break faith” with others (45), such as failing to follow the expectations of society. Finally, Mill also creates a concept of equal law, in which being “partial” (45) is inherently unfair as everyone must be treated with the same standard of judgement. Mill believes that these concepts of justice are all necessary for a functioning society.
By saying that justice is necessary for a functioning and harmonious society, it proves that in order for there to be utility, there must be conformity to law. When laws are broken, there has been a violation of a moral right. And when someone does something that is morally wrong, they must be punished for it because people must always get what they deserve in adherence to Mill’s definition of Justice. Although, Mill does not believe that everyone has a right to generosity or kindness because people are not morally obligated to be generous or kind. People are only obligated to do what is necessary to be a good person, and they do not have to exceed this expectation. As long as one does not do anything bad, they are good. Overall, Mill proves that morality and justice go hand and hand especially with regards to utility.
Further, Mill discusses how conducting punishment is a natural response for people who have been wronged or have heard of unjust behavior taking place. People desire to punish people who have hurt them as a means of self-defense, but people also desire to punish people who they have seen hurt others due to sympathetic feelings. Mill believes that there is no necessary moral value in this response unless it will generally promote happiness rather than simply fulfill one’s personal need for justice. Mill also explains that some people think punishment is only valid when it is done to benefit the person being punished, others believe punishment is only valid when it is done to benefit the people of society, and the rest believe that punishment is always unjust. In addition, some people think that punishments should be given based on how serious of a crime was committed, while others say that enough punishment should be given so that the person will not commit any future crimes either. Regardless of what people believe about punishment, a human’s legal and moral rights must never be violated when deciding one’s consequences. Mill believes that the only way to determine what one’s rights truly are is through utility. Whichever rights promote general happiness, are the rights that overall promote utility in society.
Mill also explains that justice is never independent from utility especially in regards to morality. What is just is based off of what is useful towards the general happiness of society. Basically, people may never hurt one another nor violate one’s freedom without proper intentions and punishment must always be based on utility in order for it to be moral. Mill ultimately concludes that the concept of justice always takes utility into consideration. What is just is equal, deserving, and fair to others. In order for people to receive good or bad, it must be in regards to utility. Utility is based on what will promote the general welfare of society as a whole. And in order for there to be justice, there must be utility.
Mill’s argument is rather convincing, though of course there are flaws with his reasoning. Mill has absolute arguments when discussing concepts of justice and law, ones that may seem convincing but lack a compassionate basis. When discussing justice, Mill creates a concept that is black and white with little room for human error. His conceptualization of if a person does good then they deserve good things leaves very little room for human motive such as one found in the Heinz Dilemma. What about someone who does something bad for a good reason? The traditional anti-hero? Mill’s scale of justice leaves no room for the partiality that comes with the obligation to human emotion. While Mill offers a good theme of “justice is, and should be, blind” he does not allow for extenuating circumstances which makes his overall theory well written, but not comprehensive for the real world.
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