A critique of the work of John Stuart Mill, John Locke, and John Rawls

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An Exploration into Critical and Moral Thinking

Ryan Murray

AP World History

Period 4

A Critique of the work of John Stuart Mill, John Locke, and John Rawls

In order to properly address and analyze the thought processes that were the consensus of John Stuart Mill’s work, we first must understand the basic aspects of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its utility in providing happiness or pleasure as summed among all sentient beings. In simpler terms, this means that a deeds purpose is to do the “greatest good for the greatest number of people." Mill differentiates from Bentham, by stating that individual rights are sacred, but laws of society must be utilitarian in nature. He believes that people should make the choice to benefit the majority, but the decision is ultimately up to the beholder.

Due to his finding that individual rights must be accounted for, I support the beliefs of Mill. A society where major decisions are made not by the individual and people are at the mercy of the government’s proposed majority, is reminiscent of one described in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty- Four. Here, the government, called Big Brother, has brainwashed the people into believing that their suffering is beneficial to the survival of the government and the people of Oceania. A government or society based only on the greater good leads to the manipulation and subjugation of the common people. The public believes that their work is helping society, but in fact, it is making society as a whole weaker. The weakness comes from within, as people start to question the government, and inevitably cause its downfall.

John Locke, an English theorist of the 17th century was one of the great thinkers of the European Enlightenment. He was the father to the ideas expressed in the ideas expressed in the American and French revolutions; most famously life, liberty, and property. These “unalienable rights” could not be suppressed by any legitimate government. However, Locke also states that the people under the influence of said legitimate government must pay taxes, and are required to fight in war.

Of course, every citizen loves their unalienable rights in the United States, and could not possibly live without them. But as soon as taxation is brought into question, the people as a whole break into an uproar over how they have to give even a small percentage of their money to the government. It as though we forget that these taxes go towards protecting our unalienable rights from persecution, as well as many of the other amenities we enjoy. It is not as though the government uses our tax dollars for the building of lush palaces, as done by the Romanov Dynasty of Russia. For these reasons, I believe taxpaying is vital to any society, and I support Locke’s theory. However, I do not believe in the idea that all men are responsible to fight for their country. Wars fought abroad for territory, bragging rights, or economic advantages are not worth the lives lost. However, I do believe deeply in patriotism, and support the idea that we as a people must defend ourselves and protect those who are in need. The Vietnam War caused many protests in the U.S. because people saw no purpose in the war. Basically, the war was fought for world hegemony, the capitalist west against the communist USSR, and the American people could not support a war fought that was killing their men, and not reaping any benefits.

It is easy to support the theories of John Rawls from the outside, however actually living in his proposed society would most likely cause strife between the people. Rawls proposed a society in which all people were given the same civil liberties, and were treated equally before the law, regardless of there wealth or stance in society. I believe this system would fail inevitably, due to the fact that a man with a clean record would have the same liberties as a multiple criminal offender. Citizens with completely different histories cannot be treated in the court of law as the same, due to the fact that the multiple offenders are more likely to commit another crime, and his civil liberties must be restricted to help prevent this. This comes in the form of parole or increased sentence.

Moral Obligations

First, I believe the strongest bond of obligation between people is a bloodline. I believe it is important to stick up for your relatives, unless the offense was against said family. That being said, I think it is important for the police to be called if I caught a relative shoplifting. This would be the only way that the person could truly learn their lesson. However, the question of would I call the police is a different story. Would the lesson be worth the pain and suffering by the relative and family? Would my brother ever forgive me? When these are all called into question, I agree with Mill’s theories, and would not report my brother to the police. Despite the fact that turning in my brother would benefit society, the choice to do so is still up to me. I believe this example of obligation is not universal or voluntary; it is one of instinct and love (and the protection of family).

On the matter if I were to catch a friend cheating once, I probably would not care and blow it off. However, if my friend made a habit of consistently cheating, I would turn him in. Rawls stated that all people must have the same rights, regardless of prior events. I disagree with this, because one act of cheating could just be in desperation. Multiple acts of cheating means that the person is trying to beat the system. Not only are they hurting themselves in the longrun, but also society as a whole. What happens if a scientist who cheated his way through physics, but got As, is on a NASA space mission? Would the plans he helped work on truly be safe? My decision also reflects the teachings of Mill, in that stopping the cheater benefits the society (or school) as a whole, while causing damage to my relationship with my friend.

If my child and a stranger were drowning in a pool, and I had t choose one to save, I would do the same as everyone else, and save my own child first. Once my child was safe, I would dive back in to save the other child. Again, this is an example where the factor of love is brought into question, so this instance is neither universal nor voluntary. Although the strangers life is important, I do not believe it is as important as that of my own child. Love for ones child is a filial obligation, meaning that we have to respect and protect our own families. This idea was taught by Confucius and his scholar disciples cir. 500 B.C.E.

Despite the love and caring that parents usually show for their children, we often hear of abandoned/ abused children in the news. So where is the filial obligation? This is where I believe some aspects of parental care can become voluntary. By law, a parent/ guardian is required to give their children food, clothing, and shelter. The manor in which these things are presented, and the extra things that come along, is voluntary. Some parents just don’t know how to deal with children, and cannot take care of them no matter what. However, the aspects of abuse/ abandonment could be done without.

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