Compare, Contrast and Evaluate JS Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche’s views on conventional morality? Traditionally approached there appears little apparent compatibility in Mill’s utilitarianism and Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy, but when looked at in greater depths a number of themes overlap. Although Mill’s philosophy tends to be structured around community, and Nietzsche’s around the individual, for both philosophers the concept of morality, and more specifically conventional (or Christian) morality, was at the heart of their understanding of society. Despite a great variance in their approaches it is worthwhile to analyse each, especially in the wake of recent post-modern liberalist readings that have sought to align the two philosophers, especially those of Richard Rorty.
It may be useful to set out initially the traditional interpretations of each philosophy and to work from there in exploring how the two can be seen to compliment, and to conflict with, each other. The basis of JS Mill’s utilitarianism rests on a number of principles, centred on the ultimate aim of happiness. In Utilitarianism he stresses “The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end. ”1 One of his main themes being that of the harm principle.
Broadly speaking; the liberty of action of each individual to the extent that no other individual is harmed; “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”2 Most of Mill’s work is employed in attempting to reconcile his theory of utility with that of liberty.
It would be a mistake to suggest that Mill held to the strict utilitarian doctrine of the necessity to ‘maximise utility’, and that any other action is prima facie wrong. It is on this point that Mill went beyond his fellow utilitarians and attempted to reconcile the concept of utility within society. Mill has been criticised on this point for his lack of clarity, but it seems that this stems from the nature of his work, that rather than laying down a strict doctrine he was actively, throughout his writings, attempting to work out and accommodate his principles.
Mill understood the promotion of happiness as “The test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality. ”3 But what Mill has been criticised for, even by Nietzsche himself, is his failure to define what morality constitutes.
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