Loading
Notes
Study Reminders
Support
Text Version

Utilitarianism and Subjection of Women

Set your study reminders

We will email you at these times to remind you to study.
  • Monday

    -

    7am

    +

    Tuesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Wednesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Thursday

    -

    7am

    +

    Friday

    -

    7am

    +

    Saturday

    -

    7am

    +

    Sunday

    -

    7am

    +

with a combination of other traditions of philosophy such as the conservatism or socialism that
allow him to develop his arguments.
And in developing those arguments, he remained though a utilitarian thinker, but also, provided a
more ethical and moral substance to the utilitarian philosophy. If you look at the major works of
John Stuart Mill, it was a system of logical principles of political economy On Liberty in 1859,
Utilitarianism in 1861, Considerations on Representative Government in 1861, Subjection of
Women in 1869 and his other works such as autobiography, three essays on religion, chapters on
socialism were published after his death in 1873. Among these, the autobiography can be
regarded as a classic text along with Socrates’s Republic or Rousseau’s Emile on the philosophy
of education.
He advocated against the method of education that was followed by his father and Jeremy
Bentham. These three ties can be read as a philosophy of education. Mill wrote numerous articles
in newspapers, magazines, and journals on the areas of scientific inquiry, ethics, philosophy,
politics, and economics. However, James Mill’s magnum opus remained On Liberty. In
contemporary times, there is a kind of interest in reading this text, On Liberty, along with his
views on the Subjection of Women.
(Refer Slide Time: 32:15)
Now, we move on to understand his views on utilitarianism known as hedonist philosophy,
which gives primacy to human pleasure or happiness. This philosophy was developed by Mills,father James Mill and his friend Jeremy Bentham. It was based on the idea that human beings
necessarily seek pleasure or happiness and avoids pain. So, the purpose of life according to
utilitarian philosophy is to seek pleasure or happiness.
The pursuit of happiness in that sense is the basis of utilitarian philosophy and it should also
guide the action of the state or policies of the state. The state should follow only those policies
that would bring ‘greatest happiness to the greatest number’ that would be in the benefit of the
greatest number in society. There is a quantitative approach to this idea of pleasure. So, in
assessing the value of an action or a policy, there is no pre or a priori maxim about what is
ethically or morally good.
The criteria to decide what is ethically or morally good is the basis whether it enhances the
pleasure or happiness of the individual or society or not. The utilitarian philosophy’s basic
assumption is the pursuit of happiness or pleasure as the basis of measuring any action of
individual or of the state. The measurement of a policy or course of action should be based on
whether it satisfied ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’. If it does, then that action is good,
but if it brings pain to individuals or the greatest number, it should be avoided.
So, it gives a very radical basis of measuring the value of any action or policy of any state, it
should not be based on any a priori notion of ethics or values, but whether in empirical material
terms, the course of action will enhance the happiness of an individual or the greatest number of
individual in the society or not. That should be the sole criteria for judging the action of the
individuals or policies of the state.
However, by the time Mills began to develop his political ideas, the philosophy of utilitarianism
came under severe attacks from scholars like Thomas Carlyle and these critics argued that the
philosophy which emphasized so much on quantitative pleasure was worthy of the only swine.
So, the pigs could be inspired by the philosophy of constant pursuit of happiness. The human
being as a moral-ethical, not on the course of action should not be based on quantifiable pleasure
or happiness.
Let us bring the Kantian idea of ‘categorical’ and ‘hypothetical imperative’ again. For Kant’s
‘hypothetical imperative’ is somewhat akin to this idea of utilitarian philosophy. That means you
choose a course of action. Because you want to achieve certain ends and that course of action is correct. In this sense, it helps you to achieve that ends and if it does not that course of action is
wrong. The happiness or satisfaction that you derive from a course of action is based on the fact
that it helps you to achieve certain ends certain desires, it should be fulfilled.
So, happiness and pleasure are dependent on the outcome of a certain action. It is a kind of
consequences further or external things that justify the course of your action. Whereas the
‘categorical imperative’ was based on a sense of universal morality that gives you pleasure in
doing the thing itself, it does not depend on the consequences of any action and in human life,
many actions we perform with a sense of duty or obligation may not necessarily lead to
enhancement of our material gains or a sense of pleasure or happiness. It may lead to some loss
or disadvantages for us.
But when performing that action, you derive certain pleasure and that cannot be explained in the
material quantifiable terms as put forward by James Mill or Jeremy Bentham. For him, human
beings and all kinds of actions are judged based on whether it enhances pleasure or happiness or
not. Carlyle and many other scholars considered utilitarian philosophy to be the philosophy of
pig and not for the human being. Mill attempted to rescue this utilitarian philosophy from such
criticisms. He summed up this philosophy of utilitarianism in his text, Utilitarianism in the
following way.
The creed which accepts the foundation of morals, so the philosophy of utilitarianism provided
us with the quantifiable mechanism to decide whether a course of action is morally or ethically
correct or not. So, the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility or the greatest
happiness principle is the basis for deciding the moral values of any action. It holds that actions
are right in the proportion as they tend to promote happiness ‘wrong as they tend to produce the
reverse of happiness’ that is a pig.
The philosophy of utilitarianism, according to John Stuart Mill is the foundation of morals and
the foundation of morality is its utility, and utility is explained in quantifiable terms. Thus, any
course of action or the policy of state helps in ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. If
it does, it brings happiness. Therefore, it brings utility and is morally correct. If it brings pain, it
is morally incorrect and unacceptable. Thus, the utilitarian philosophy is based on the moral
percept of utility or ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Much of his defence of liberty of the individual or rights of the women or defence of the
representative form of government is based on the principle of social utility or the philosophy of
utilitarianism. For John Stuart Mill, the liberty or women's right or representative form of
government was good not because they were good in itself, but it also enhanced the social utility
or the happiness of mankind. Therefore, it should be defended.
(Refer Slide Time: 39:48)
Like Bentham, for Mill too, pleasure or happiness had both individuals as well as the social
aspect. Thus, the desire for one on the greatest happiness is the sole motive of the individual, so
an individual in that sense is a self-seeking creature to maximize his or her on pleasure. ‘The
greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is the object of social good. So, the state or
community tried to formulate policy for everyone, the purpose of that policy or objective of that
policy should be the benefit of the greatest number of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest
number’ and the object of moral action.
However, what Mill did was to introduce a qualitative aspect to the quantitative tradition of
Benthamite utilitarian. Mill made an extension or if you like a break from this quantitative
philosophy of utilitarianism. He argued that all pleasures were not the same or of equal moral
worth. He argued that the pleasure of mind was superior to the pleasure of the body. This is
famously asserted in his statement that ‘it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig
satisfied’. And better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. He gave a moral and ethical percept to this philosophy of utility. So, the pleasure of all kinds is
not equal and the same worth. Life of the mind or intellectual pleasure is always superior to
bodily pressure. Whereas in the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, there was no
such difference, reading a book or having a cup of coffee was of the same worth if it helps the
concerned individual derive pleasure or satisfaction from doing these actions or by reading a
book or drinking a cup of coffee.
Whereas in Mill, reading a book was always better than drinking a coffee. In other words, the
pleasure that individual derived from the mind or intellectual life was superior to the pleasure of
the body. That his contracts assert by saying that ‘it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a
fool satisfied’. So, there is a kind of universal, moral, ethical position. Mills, nonetheless,
remained a consistent utilitarian thinker himself and that became the ground for many other
scholars and intellectuals to criticize Mills philosophy.
So, Mill attempted to provide the ethical basis of utilitarian philosophy and he used it
consistently in his defence of liberty, women's right, and representative forms of government.
Now, let us move on to understand Mills views on equality between men and women, and his
defence for the rights of women. This is beautifully explained in his text, The Subjection of
Women.
Mill was a great champion of liberty and equality among men and women, and he supported the
demand for the right to vote for women. This was radical in his time, although, there was the
demand for women's suffrage or in the extension of the right to vote, to the working class. But no
thinkers systematically provided the argument in support of women's right and how it would lead
to the overall progress of mankind or society as Mill did in his Subjection of Women.
So, in his book, the Subjection of Women, Mill put forward the argument in support of women's
rights which were much ahead of his times. It is known that women themselves were not making
such demands. And hundreds of women were already demonstrating on the streets of London
making demands for recognition and protection of their rights, and extension of rights to the
suffrage of women.
Politically, and historically, there was also articulation and demonstration of demands in support
of women's right and right to vote, Mill gave it a more philosophical and systematic defence in this Subjection of Women, much ahead of his time. Many contemporary feminist writers and
philosophers engaged with this text as well, they wanted On Liberty to be read along with this
Subjection of Women.
(Refer Slide Time: 45:23)
Mill began his defence of human rights by asserting that the principle which regulates the
existing social relation between the two sexes, the legal subordination of one sex to the other is
wrong in itself and one of the chief hindrances to human improvement, and it ought to be
replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side not
disability on the other. So, it is a critique of patriarchal difference between men and women in
the family, society, laws, and politics.
So, if you think about the laws of marriage or divorce or property, inheritance, all were
formulated in a way that put women in the disadvantaged position and all ownership of property
belonging to the husband or the male member. The subjugation of women for Mill is wrong in
itself and one of the chief hindrances of human improvement and he gave a utilitarian argument
in favour of the protection of women's right and recognition of women as equal to men.
It helps those family, individuals, and polity based on the egalitarian principle of equality and
liberty. Unlike, previous regimes based on the class hierarchy or economic hierarchies of classes
or states modern democracy, it was based on the principle of equality and liberty. However, that equality and liberty were denied to the majority of the population, half of the population were
women and that made a mockery of the principle of liberty, equality, and democracy. (47:34).
So, he considered it as a kind of chief hindrances to human freedom and he argued that equality
and liberty were accepted as the organizing principle of modern, social, and political life. And
that is the fundamental break from medieval or ancient ideas. Although in practice, the material
existence of men and hierarchy existed, there is the disparity of social and economic status. Yet
in the imagination, laws, and politics, every men and woman are treated equally.
But when Mill was writing or developing his political ideas such rights were denied to the
working class and the women, even when the right to vote was extended to the working class,
women were denied and they were considered naturally inferior. Mill had a problem with this
understanding of women being naturally inferior to men. He argued that unless the women’s
right to participate in the public and political life and allowing them to have the right to join any
employment as like open to the men, then how to understand their capacity or about what is the
natural capacity of women.
It is based on an experimented premise which cannot be the basis of rational discussion or
debates on the nature or capability of men and women. So, they must be allowed like men to join
any employment, demonstrate their capability and nature. He argued that on the one hand, while
organizing the modern life and polity, the principle of equality and liberty is accepted and
slavery or subjugation of men detested, the subjugation of women continues and many
considered them as natural.
So, there is nothing natural, according to Mill, in this difference between male and female or
men and women. He considered the subjection of women by men is regarded as natural because
unlike slavery, every man has an interest in the subjugation of women. Let us think it this way,
so the economy of slavery or other forms of subjugation of men by men existed. But it was
overcome. Because those who controlled the slaves or those who were in the position of
authority over other men were always in minority.
The struggle between those men in the minority and majority late to overcome the subjugation of
men by women, at least, in the legal political and the sense of modern imaginary, any form of
subjugation by men to other men is detested and disapproved of legally politically philosophically. But the subjugation of women continued and he gave the argument that unlike
slavery, where only a few men had their interest in the sustenance or continuance of slavery, the
subjugation of women is something that every man prefers and benefit from.
So, they would like to control another person that gives them a kind of self-esteem and that leads
to the continuation of the subjugation of women even when liberty and equality are accepted and
any form of slavery or subjugation of one man by the other is detested. The reason being that in
the subjugation of women, every man and not just a few men have an interest and that is
untenable when we agree to have liberty and equality as the basis of modern life. So, how you
can deny the same right to half of the population. His defence of women's right is based on the
utilitarian point of view and he gave many arguments in support of women's right.
First of all, he or you, the men and women would have a more satisfying and enriching
experience as human beings or as a moral, ethical human ascend as a free and equal partner
rather than one controlling the other. So, if you have the partnership of domination and
subordination, it will not lead to an enriching or fulfilling life. He detested the men controlling
the women in the sphere of family, conjugal relationship of marriage, and enriching experience
was denied when one partner treats other partners merely as the subject or control or subject, the
other partner to the will of himself.
He argued such a relationship would be more satisfying and enriching when one partner treats
the other as free and equal rather than one controlling the other. That is the first defence that he
gave for women's right, they must be treated and recognized as a free and equal agent like men.
Second, the recognition and treatment of women as a free agent would make family a
hierarchical institution under patriarchy. This is the kind of clear hierarchy that exists in the
family between the male householder, women, children and the workers or servants and the male
householder is regarded as the patriarch or the honour of that household. Everyone is subjected
to his will or his dictates.
So, there is a kind of hierarchical living or kind of despotism that exist in the patriarchal family.
Mill argued that when you recognize individual or women as an individual having her free will,
it would transform the family as an institution from a hierarchical institution to a more
egalitarian institution and once the children learn the value of freedom and equality in the family, they would learn to treat others as equal and free in other spheres of life too and that would
strengthen the democratic state and its institutions.
Thus, think about this contradiction in modern democracies. So, if you have the family where
there is the hierarchy, protection, or defence of such hierarchy between the male and female
member, husband and wife, how one can think of the same individual will treat others equally in
other spheres of life. So, the family should be the first school where the egalitarian values of
equality and liberty should be taught to everyone in the family. And then it would help
strengthen the democratic values in the sphere of society, state, or polity.
Mill argued for the protection of women's right, not just for the conjugal relationship or
enriching experiences in the marriage. But it also created a new individual who would act
according to the egalitarian principle of equality and liberty when they learn it in their family and
family becomes the egalitarian institution and not the hierarchical institution based on the
differences between male and female.
Third, when women are allowed to join all kinds of employment that are open to men, society
would progress overall. It would lead to more doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers in society
and healthy open competition for the post would benefit the society in the long term. Mill argued
only when women were allowed to do what they please as men do, we come to know about their
capabilities and what is considered as natural for women.
So, the patriarchal hierarchies exist because men consider women as naturally inferior to men,
unless it has experimented and women are allowed to participate in the public, political life or
employments are open to them. We cannot decide on certain untested experimental premises that
they are naturally inferior to men. He wanted them to be allowed to participate in the public,
political life of the state as it is available to men.
Finally, given women rights to equality and liberty would increase the overall benefits of
mankind manifold, the satisfying utilitarian criteria of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest
number’ and by the same logic, he extended the rights of the working class as well. That is all in
this lecture on Mills intellectual and political context, his personal life and defence of
utilitarianism and women's right. In the next class, we will discuss his views on liberty and representative forms of government and while concluding, we will discuss the critical assessment
of his thoughts.
(Refer Slide Time: 58:14)
And the topics that we have covered in this lecture for that you can refer to some of these books
like David Boucher and Paul Kelly’s, Political Thinkers from Socrates to the Present, Maurice,
Cowling’s, you can refer to, to understand Mill views and his philosophy of liberty, and how it
extends the liberal arguments of individual freedom and free society. You can also refer to Roger
Crisp’s, Mill on Utilitarianism and Shefali Jha’s, Western Political Thought from Ancient Greeks
to Modern Times.
You should read this text, particularly John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and The Subjection of Women
edited by Alan Ryan (58:58) from Penguin New York in 2006. This text will give you the basic
premise of many political and philosophical precepts in John Stuart Mill. You can also refer to
Susun Moller Okin’s, Women in Western Political Thought and James Alan Ryan’s, On Politics:
A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present. So, these are some of the texts,
you can refer to, to understand more on the topics we have covered in this lecture. Thanks for
listening. Thank you all