Mill's Moral and Political Philosophy

Posted: 15 Apr 2007 Last revised: 16 Jul 2009

See all articles by David O. Brink

David O. Brink

University of California, San Diego; University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2007


As perhaps the leading historical proponent of two important normative traditions - utilitarianism and liberalism - John Stuart Mill (1806-73) occupies an unusually important position in the history of western moral and political philosophy. Viewed in historical context, both utilitarianism and liberalism have exerted considerable progressive influence on the scope of moral concern, the design of public institutions, the responsibilities of government, and the interests and rights of the governed. Mill did much to articulate the justification, content, and implications of utilitarian and liberal principles. This essay reconstructs the central elements of his contributions to the utilitarian and liberal traditions, focusing on his two most popular and best known works - Utilitarianism (1861) and On Liberty (1859), - but drawing on other texts when this sheds light on the interpretation of these two texts. It concludes by looking at how Mill applies his utilitarian and liberal principles to issues of political and sexual equality in Considerations on Representative Government (1859), Principles of Political Economy (1848), and The Subjection of Women (1869).

Keywords: John Austin, Jeremy Bentham, consequentialism, democracy, feminism, freedom of speech, T.H. Green, happiness, hedonism, distributive justice, legal moralism, liberalism, libertarianism, liberty, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, paternalism, perfectionism, philosophical radicals, rights, utilitarianism

JEL Classification: D69

Suggested Citation

Brink, David O., Mill's Moral and Political Philosophy (April 4, 2007). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-98, Available at SSRN:

David O. Brink (Contact Author)

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University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

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