Sympathy, Self-Interest, and the Revision of Benthamism: The Development of John Stuart Mill's Moral and Social Philosophy, 1826-1840 [Book Review]

Dissertation, York University (Canada) (1988)
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Abstract

After his mental crisis in 1826 J. S. Mill set out to revise Benthamite Utilitarianism. The nature of that revision and its relation to Mill's mature philosophy is central to Mill scholarship. This study suggests that in order to understand the development of Mill's thought it is necessary to understand the central role he assigned to sympathy. ;Benthamism, to Mill, was based upon the assumptions that mankind was predominately motivated by self-interest, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number would be achieved by an artificial identity of interests. During his crisis Mill discovered that enlightened self-interest and an education based upon associationist psychology could not provide an abiding link between an individual's happiness and the happiness of others. The possibility of establishing such a bond, Mill came to believe, lay in each individual's capacity to sympathize with others. Mill's recovery from his crisis was sparked by the discovery of his ability to identify sympathetically with others and by his recognition of the possibility of nurturing the capacity for sympathy. This dissertation argues that these experiences became the foundation for Mill's revision of Benthamism and the core of his moral and social philosophy. Analysis of Mill's early essays , newspaper articles and letters establishes the extent of Mill's belief in the necessity of developing sympathy, and his insistence that sympathy be incorporated into Utilitarianism. ;Mill's appeal to sympathy is best understood in its intellectual context. This work interprets Mill's emphasis on sympathy within the context of the discourse on the relation of sympathy and self-interest to social morality articulated in the moral philosophies of Adam Smith and David Hume, the Romantic poetics of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley, the moral philosophies of the critics of Benthamism and the social criticism of the Saint-Simonians. ;The role of sympathy in Mill's thought has yet to be fully examined. While this dissertation focusses on Mill's revision of Benthamism, sympathy is also a major theme in his mature moral and social philosophy. This study further suggests the need for re-examining Victorian liberalism in the light of the central role of sympathy

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