The Importance of Individual Rights in John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism merely is that what a person should do to produce desirable consequences. Utilitarian involves the results, that is, all bad and good, that occurs from a person’s actions, which arises either during or after the performance of the act. Moreover, utilitarian’s believed that essential values which are produced by two alternate actions could be related and estimated to get the action that has a better result (Sandel, n.d.). If there is no significant variation in the consequences of other deeds, then the choice amongst them is not recognized as an ethical matter by some utilitarian’s. For example, according to Mill, if the consequences of the act are that which a person wished to get and to see that the agent is forced, and not convinced to act necessarily, then acts ought to be categorized either as ethically wrong or right (Mill, 2015). This paper presents the concepts of utilitarianism, individual objection on rights, as well as Mill’s work on utilitarianism.

            Mill attempted to provide a defense only on legal rights since he never believed that pre-legal rights existed. He regarded them as symbols which is wholly intelligible with the method of analysis. Mill defined rights as simple symbols which have meanings, that is, juridical powers that are either over things or people (Mill, 2015). He said that when freedom is created an obligation must also be created. In addition, each right is an advantage over the desired objects to a particular point. Mill gives a warning of the relationship between duties and obligations besides those who continuously claim rights.

            Mill emphasized more on individual rights as well as its significant role in a political oriented society. According to Mill, an individual is supposed to be the only person who can judge his acts, that is, to make a decision on what is wrong or right, and to undertake an action in line to that standard. He believed in the way of life in which every member of the society leads his own life unaffected by the laid down rules on opinion, thought or actions (Mill, 2015).

            Mill pointed out that liberty is vital for the realization of truth. If a person’s actions were suppressed, the society would lose significant specks of facts which would help in one or more ways to achieve the society’s objectives (Mill, 2012). Furthermore, the truth is never gotten from many people but rather from a few individuals. If these individuals are silenced by the oppressive regulations, they can never reveal the reality that they have, this, therefore, will impact negatively on the progress of the society.

            John Stuart Mill’s book, On Liberty, is the typical defense on the rights of the individuals in all countries whose members speak English. The central principle here is the harm principle also known as the on liberty principle. This principle holds that every person should have the freedom to do anything as long as they don’t harm other people. He argued that the sole reason as to why power can be exercised in the right way over every member of the society contrary to his will is to avoid mischief to other people. Mill argues that the human happiness can be achieved by respecting every right of the person. Supporting the majority to silence the minority will lead to a society which is not happy in the long run (Mill, 2012). Therefore, it is imperative to consider as well as to respect the liberty of every individual in the society.

            Mill explains further that upholding the freedom of every individual will lead to a great improvement in the welfare of the society; this is because a society that compels its members to embrace the rules and the customs will deprive itself of the vitality and the energy to quickly develop the nation. Forcing people to live according to some traditions is wrong since people will not get the opportunity to achieve their free and full human faculties’ development. Therefore, according to Mill, conformity is the greatest rival which completely hinders living in the best and enjoyable life.

             In the past, liberty mainly meant that protection from tyranny, nowadays, the meaning of freedom has changed due to the role of leaders who came into existence. This changed brought about a big problem in the society, that is, the in the democratic society, the will of the majority is being respected by the minority (Mill, 2015). Here, the nation becomes tyrant being characterized by the fact that it forces to inflict its values and its will to the people.

            In Mill’s Harm Principle, he observed that rights could be categorized into three kinds, which must be highly respected and acknowledged by every society. The first type is the liberty of opinion and thought, the second type is the liberty pursuits and tastes, and finally the third type is the right to be in line with other people for a sole purpose as long as it does not hurt anyone in any way (Mill, 2015). The three freedoms disprove society’s tendency to force obedience.

            Mill discusses whether those who have views which are unpopular should be given the chance to act upon them, without being treated as social outcasts. He argues that compared to ideas, actions are never free (Sandel, n.d.). Therefore the government should do all that it can to ensure that someone’s actions do not harm others.

            Mill believes that lower and higher pleasures can be distinguished to examine not only our desires’ quantity but also the quality, this distinction can be achieved only by relying on utility itself but not on ideas which are ethical.

            The work of John Stuart Mill is indeed compelling since he focused his work on the crucial aspects of life which even guides the current as well as the future generation of all the English speaking countries in the world (Sandel, n.d.). In his work, Mill also criticized the past errors which tried to defend the right to individuality, where for instance, the democratic society led to what is known as the tyranny of the majority, this is where the majority’s opinions suppress the minority’s views.

            In conclusion, the speculations of Mill on the significant social effects of human rights are indeed credible enough. First, for actions and behavior that affects people, the people are not accountable for them in any way (Sandel, n.d.). Secondly, a person is responsible if his actions affect others negatively, such people are curtailed and punished by the society. He attempted to establish the existence of the relationship between liberty and authority, where he emphasized on the significance of individuality in the community, which he believed to be the requirement to a greater pleasure. This leads to a happy and developed nation.


Mill, J. S. (2012). Utilitarianism. Place of publication not identified: Duke Classics.

Mill, J. S. (2015). Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism and on Liberty, 181-235. doi:10.1002/9780470776018.ch4

Sandel M. (n.d.). Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel. Retrieved October 5, 2018, from

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