John Stuart Mill

Question 1

According to Mill, how can we theorize the difference between Just and Moral?

Relating to the readings

Mill’s distinction between just and moral relate to the readings because he refers to Justice on page 16 and morality on page 14. The interpretations of these texts imply that justice is a part of Morality but being moral will not necessarily entail being just. (14-15)

In class discussion

Just and Moral- Just is a part of Morality and Morality doesn’t necessarily require justice. Not everything that is moral is just. E.g.. Death Row is immoral because it causes death but just because the person is proven guilty. The interpretation of laws may not reflect morality necessarily. Being moral is not necessarily just in all aspects. E.g. stealing medicine (unjust) for preventing death (moral)


Question 2

How does mill distinguish between sensual and intellectual pleasures?

Relating to the readings

Mill distinguishes between the different kinds of pleasures on page 3 and 4. Mill states the intellectual pleasures only come to those who have the capability to process- higher beings. He states that he’d rather be unsatisfied by intellectual pleasures than be satisfied by lower intellect and lower pleasures. He’d rather be an unhappy Socrates than a happy pig. He derives pleasure in thought processes, music etc.

In class discussion

He thinks that better intellect has given more meaning and a whole picture toward life. Having even a little bit of intellectual pleasures is better than having a lot of sensual pleasure. For e.g. listening to music and understanding it would be better than sex. Thinking about the greater meaning of life and soul searching would have more intellectual pleasure that would lead to more and deeper meaning of life. Intellectual pleasures are what follow the physical aspect that is a sensual pleasure. Physical actions could be selfish because it’s a personal pleasure. Mental activity that follows could help you look at the world as a whole or at the bigger picture. Mental activity gives more meaning to life. Maybe it’s not about the act itself but the person that experiences it.


Question 3

Utilitarianism and how it could be justified with context to his personal actions?

This question cannot be related to the readings but I brought it up to my discussion group because Mill was against the independence of Britain’s colonies, especially India. It just startled me that somebody who wrote about utilitarianism and equity for all would not want his nations colony free. My discussion group was also very curious about the same. We talked about Mill’s actions and how they could have been justified through his perspective.

Despite being Pro-democracy, Mill believed that the society has to get to a level before they get to a level of independence. Defense on why India was needed ruling because he thought he was giving knowledge and making them “more human” for the Highest Good because then they would experience intellectual pleasures.

He didn’t tie his philosophy to his actions. He wanted to do a better thing and impart knowledge to the Indians and make them more capable of intellect. ‘Its easier said than done’. At the time he thought he was right. He considered all the people that were colonized less than human.

Mills and Immigration Policy

  1. In light of how Mill’s defines what is just and moral, that is the distinction between what is owed another person and what is owed to no one in particular, which parts of the case of the immigration into Canada?


This question was asked to shed light about how Mill’s would have viewed recent debate on immigration. He divides morality and justice, and then prioritizes justice.


“Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right. No one has a moral right to our generousity or beneficence, because we claim from us as his moral right.” (Mils, p. 15)


“In the more precise language of philosophic jurists, duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons; duties of imperfect obligation are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any right. I think it will be found that this distinction exactly coincides with that which exists between justice and the other obligations of morality.” (pg. 15)


“Justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life… It appears from what has been said, that justice is a name for certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than any others (pg. 16)


There are many ways to view immigration but I think some might argue that an effective immigration policy is one that protects the citizens from economic and security fall-out of letting in new people. That would fall under justice according to Mill.


“Thus, a person is said to have a right to what he can earn in fair professional competition, because society ought not to allow any other person to hinder him from endeavoring to earn in that manner as much as he can.” (pg 16) – but that person is not owed any specific wage


“To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of… The interest involved is that of security, to every one’s feelings the most vital of all interests.” (pg. 16)


On the other hand morality obliges a country to let in refugees in order to save them from a situation which endangers their lives.


“[…] though particular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine…” (pg. 16)


In which case Mills might have thought immigration is justifed.

There are many economic study which support the idea that immigration causes net benefit to the economy and that evidence clearly show immigrants are no more violent or criminal than citizens in Canada, so one might argue that the first argument of economic and physical safety of citizens is moot.


Discussion Answers:

  • Someone surmised that immigration is more justice based, not moral, in reality. Immigrants are owed something. It is also moral because we need to be generous.
  • A good point came up: almost everyone is an immigrant in Canada and we have no right bar people from coming in. That is, we have nothing “owed us”.
  • It is irrational to think that we are going to be harmed by immigrant so we do not have to concern ourselves with Mill’s thoughts of security.
  • We have as much obligation to provide the best wage for people within and without our borders



  1. In light of these discussions, what is the best immigration policy, in your opinion and that of Mill?


This was asked in hopes that Mill’s definition of justice and morality, and the maximization of utility would give a better perspective on immigration policy. Considering what he says about security and wages, but also about how our moral duty to increase utility to any human, not just the citizens of one’s own country, might weigh in on this discussion.


Some things to think about were merit-based immigration vs lottery-based immigration vs refugee status, the care of immigrants once they arrive, a country’s relationship/obligation to the world, path to immigration for undocumented residents.


Once again, we might face the question of whether there are circumstances where justice, or laws, must be broken in order to fulfill “social duties, when it comes to undocumented residents:


“[…] though particular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine…” (pg. 16)


Discussion Answers:


  • Someone suggested that we forgo borders altogether. She envisioned that instead of border bound states as we have now we would live in socialist communes scattered throughout the world. We would have absolute freedom to just roam on the earth and set up our own forms of government.
  • Someone else then asked: but what about when people in different regions have different sense of justice and morality?



Discussion Summary on Mill

Question 1: Are people who are incapable of achieving the agreed upon definition of intellectual pleasure able to experience the higher forms of happiness?

Mill compares the state of having only sensual pleasures and having both intellectual and sensual pleasures. He claims that someone who is less satisfied, but has both intellectual and sensual pleasures is still much more superior and happier than those who are fully satisfied with only sensual pleasures. He demonstrates this through the example with swine and humans saying that “beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conception of happiness” (pg. 3 Utilitarianism) and that humans have faculties that are “more elevated than the animal appetites” (pg.3 Utilitarianism).

Intellectual pleasures in this sense are typically referred to as obtaining knowledge that will in turn aid the development of society. For example, developing cures for diseases. It can also be a skill that will exercise the brain so that it results in the functioning of it at a higher degree. These kind of expectations exist in developed countries however, in many underdeveloped places the people are unable to obtain and experience such intellectual pleasures. Intellectual pleasures exist outside the typical ideas for these people. Valuable knowledge for them could be the best method for hunting a specific animal.

My group agreed that these people in underdeveloped places could still experience higher forms of happiness without having typical intellectual pleasures. This is because how happiness is experienced is dependent on an individual’s levels and views;how one interprets sensations is different between each individual. For these people, being able to survive is most important to them, just being able to have a meal at the end of the day is enough to make them truly happy. Mills’ is biased in the sense that his entire life was devoted to knowledge, education and helping lesser people without understanding the implications at the same. He did not understand that happiness is separate from access to goods such as education and environment.

Question 2: Can someone who’s occupation requires them to make unjust decisions still live contently and morally?

Mill believes that motive does not matter in an individual’s actions and that the happiness produced in the result is what is important. Mill states that unjust actions may be justified as long as “some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice” (pg. 2 Utilitarianism). He provides an example that it is just to steal medicine to save a life.

Being a lawyer requires an individual to make unjust decisions and actions at times. For example, lawyers have to defend people they know are criminals.  According to Mill’s, this is unjust and would not allow the individual to live morally and contently. However, the individual does not do this willingly and most of the time there is a higher authority that instructs them. This is their job and is what supports them financially and enables them to survive which attributes to their happiness. Also, what one regards as morally right or wrong is independent on the individual. So, people with occupations that require unjust actions and decisions to be made are still capable of living morally and contently.

Discussion Summary-Epicurus and Cicero

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you agree with Epicurus’ concept that pleasure- and in turn happiness- lies with the absence of pain and discomfort? Or do you think there is more to happiness than that? 
    • This point relates to Epicurus’ main definition of the true purpose of life, and that is to live without discomfort
      • This is exhibited in the passage of, “The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus”: “Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of physical nor mental pain present-nor of both together.” (p.1, #3)
    • His views suggest that once someone lives without any discomfort, they have reached the highest point of pleasure and happiness- and that the intensity of it varies from experience to experience
    • In our group we discussed how in today’s society, many people view happiness as a higher experience. Happiness is something greater than the simple contentedness that Epicurus suggests. It’s a feeling that supersedes the numb and content feeling that Epicurus strives for, to some in the group.
  2. Do you think it’s possible for you to ever live parallel with Epicurus’ views on death? Is there a way to disregard the idea completely? 
    • This point is one of Epicurus’ bold comments, that is instrumental to him in order to achieve pleasure and happiness
      • His comments about death can be found in Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus when he comments that, “Death is no concern to us.” (p.1)
    • In the discussion, many people found Epicurus’ ideas intriguing. When Epicurus sets forth his premises for why death is not a bad thing, he brings forth an interesting perspective. Some people suggested that Epicurus’ idea that, “… when death is present, we do not exist” (p.1), -that is rejecting ideas of an afterlife- can be refuted through belief in religion. Some people also suggested that it may be impossible to live life without ever contemplating death, as the idea is constantly present, whether we engage with it or not.
  3. Do you think it could be possible to achieve a truly Epicurean society? If achieved- do you think it could be as harmonious as Epicurus suggests? 
    • At the end of his texts, Epicurus suggests that if men were to abide by his teachings, and practice them accurately, society would be harmonious- relating to the end goal of his teachings- happiness.
      • “You shall live like a god among men because one whose life is fortified by immortal blessings in no way resembles a mortal being.” (Letter to Menoeceus, p.3)
      • “Such men like among one another most agreeably, having the firmest grounds for confidence in one another, enjoying the benefits of friendship in all their fullness, and they do not mourn a friend who dies before they do, as if there was a need for pity.” (The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus, p. 4)
    • Although an Epicurean society sounds peaceful, it would be very difficult, and almost impossible to regulate. Inevitably, Epicurus wants all men to live in the exact way which is starkly against human nature. Moreover, if this society was achieved, there is no way to ensure it would be without conflict or rebellion.