Essay about John Stuart Mill

Submitted By reifer
Words: 932
Pages: 4

Armando Reif
Kaplan University
Unit 2 Assignment: A Major Contributor To Ethical Theory
Ethics and the Legal Environment
Professor Mighdoll
May 17, 2015

John Stuart Mill was born in 1806 to James Mill in Pentonville, London. As a child, he was subjected to a rigorous education by his father, in which he mastered English and classical languages. He also studied the law, logic and philosophy. At 17 he began a career with the British East India Company and suffered depression before turning 21. In 1852, Mill married Harriet Hardy Taylor, to whom he gave credit for most of his intellectual and personal development. Their marriage lasted 6 years, until Harriet died. From 1865 to 1868 John served a term in parliament. He died in 1873. During his life, Mill was dedicated to intellectual thinking and was a major contributor to philosophy and ethical theory. John Stuart Mill was an empiricist. His moral philosophy was a modification on the utilitarian theory he had been taught by his father and Jeremy Benthem. He believed that all knowledge was essentially derived from sensory experience, and that “right actions are those that tend to produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people”. Mills ethical theory has a significant impact on our study of ethical decision making and ethical performance. It is a stone to stand on for someone who must make ethical decisions in any setting. Such a theory would lay a basic guideline for anyone who must make a significant decision in a business or is even thrown into a situation where they must decide what is right and wrong to do. Kay Whitlock, a writer at, described in his article, “Torture, Lies, and Denial” that torture is an “American problem” perpetrated by police, the military, and in prisons and disguised to a mass public audience by terms such as “special methods of questioning” and “enhanced interrogation”. He claims that torture is who we are; “politicians…political leaders…[and] religious leaders wont make it stop” and only we as a people can make it stop (Whitlock 2015). Whitlock reports that Chicago is making gains on this front, by providing reparations packages to survivors of torture. However, Whitlock claims that we as a mass are in denial of the fact we rely on torture in certain circumstances, and gives the credit to such denial on a theory developed by sociologist Everett C. Hughes in which “individuals and society keep unpleasant or intolerable knowledge from consciousness”(Whitlock 2015) The issue that Whitlock brings to attention is actually more difficult to categorize with John Stuart Mill’s ethical theory than one might at first think. On one hand, the torture may provide valuable information by which the safety and happiness of a great number (approximately 318.9 million human beings, the size of the US population in 2014 according to the United States Census Bureau) may be insured. On the other hand, we can never know beforehand whether any person who will be tortured has any knowledge of use to this cause and we could thus torture an endless line of people without ever scoring valuable information, not only that but the mass populous never hears anything directly from the horses mouth and must rely on reporting by 3rd parties like news agencies. An argument for torture could be made using Mills theory that the torture of a few would surely provide the safety and happiness of a mass. However, since it is difficult to know, as a member of the mass, whether the information gained via interrogation is of substantial contribution to our safety and happiness one could argue that it is not and we are therefore do harm to a