Mill on “Justice” at Harvard University

I thought some of you might be interested in this series that Harvard puts on youtube called “Justice”: it’s taught by professor and modern-day political philosopher Michael Sandel. For being a class at an Ivy League school, it seems surprisingly approachable. It made me smile when I saw that they too were covering John Stuart Mill, although they focus on “Utilitarianism” and we’re reading “On Liberty.” I learned through this that Mill was a disciple of Jeremy Bentham, and basically subscribed to his theory of “utilitarianism”, or “maximizing pleasure over pain.”

In the two lectures on the video (the latter is the one that specifically refers to Mill), I thought it was interesting to compare the example they give of the Romans and the Christian gladiator as a possible though far fetched example of a utilitarian principle when one compares it to the “Harm Principle” presented in Mill’s On Liberty [see Mill’s quote on comparing two desires regardless of what is deemed moral as well].

Two quotes from the video concerning Mill:

“Another way of objecting to what’s going on there [in the Roman Colosseum] is that the pleasure that the Romans take in this spectacle – should that pleasure – which is a base kind of corrupt degrading pleasure – should that even be valorized or weighed in deciding what the general welfare is?”

“It was under [Harriet Taylor’s] influence that John Stuart Mill tried to humanize utilitarianism. What Mill tried to do was to see whether the utilitarian calculus could be enlarged and modified to accommodate humanitarian concerns like the concern to individual rights and also to address the distinction between higher and lower pleasures.”

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2 Responses to Mill on “Justice” at Harvard University

  1. peterferry says:

    Glad you put that up. FYI that’s where Bernstein gave The Unanswered Question lecture series at Harvard (and where I played in high school!).

  2. gmackin says:

    Excellent video. Michael Sandel is one of the better known contemporary moral/political philosophers, and his book, Justice (which is a reading of various theories of justice), is excellent. My understanding is that his undergraduate course on this subject is also extremely popular.

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