How Mill’s Philosophy Would Relate to Any Contemporary Social Issues Today
This task and this approach have been undertaken here by Professor D. P. Dryer, whose thorough and careful study follows this general introduction.
We need to try to understand the extent of the transformation Mill brings to the utilitarian and liberal principles of the Radicals. Some of Mill’s most significant innovations to the utilitarian tradition concern his claims about the nature of happiness and the role of happiness in human motivation. Bentham and James Mill understand happiness hedonistically, as consisting in pleasure, and they believe that the ultimate aim of each person is predominantly, if not exclusively, the promotion of the agent’s own happiness (pleasure).
As such, a study of human beings’ theoretical engagement with the world demands clarity on this “fundamental instrument of thought” (Saunders, B., 2011). Mill’s account of language turns upon a distinction between the denotation and connotation of a word. Words denote the objects which they are true of; they connote specific attributes of those objects. The word “man”, for instance, denotes, or is true of, all men—“Peter, Paul, John, and an indefinite number of other individuals”. But it connotes the attributes in virtue of which the word “man” applies to these individuals—“corporeity, animal life, rationality, and a certain external form, which for distinction we call the human” (Ryan, A., 1987). Connotation determines denotation in the following sense: to know the connotation of a word is to know the necessary and sufficient conditions to determine whether a given object is denoted by that word.
What counts as speech amounting to assault or fraud? What kinds of speech cause real harm? People have different opinions and different experiences. Perhaps that's the real argument for free speech: to allow people to air their different opinions about the value of free speech.
Ryan, A., 1987, The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill, 2nd edition, New York: Humanity Books.
Saunders, B., 2011, “Reinterpreting the Qualitative Hedonism Advanced by J.S. Mill”, The Journal of Value Inquiry, 45(2): 187–201.
Mandelbaum, M., 1971, History, Man and Reason, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.