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Interview with the Philosopher John Stuart Mill

In order to address the question “How Can we judge the Goodness of a Society?”, I sought to create a dialogue with one of the renowned philosophers John Stuart Mill. This dialogue was meant to ascertain different views regarding how the goodness of a society can be judged. As an English Philosopher, exponent of Utilitarianism and an economist, John Stuart Mill, I believe, will provide wise and thought-through answers to the above asked question.

Me: Good morning Mr. John Stuart Mill.

John Stuart Mill: Good Morning Sir.

Me: Today I am very privileged to get an opportunity to pose this question to you and seek exemplary answers from you. The question I would like to ask is: how can we be able to judge the goodness of any give n society in the world? In my opinion, the goodness of any given society in the world can be judged by how such people in the society exist and understand each other peacefully despite of the racial and cultural differences that may prevail among them. In addition, I believe that the goodness of any given society in the world can be judged by the total respect for the rule of law and the respect for various human rights that universally exist in the world.

John Stuart Mill: In order to judge the goodness of any society, we should be able to ascertain both the limits and the nature of the power which can be exercised legitimately over its individuals by any society. The goodness of such society can therefore be judged according to the way its individuals are empowered with the rights to act the way they want as long as their actions cannot harm other people in the society.

Me: Mr. Mill, by your statement, do you imply that by empowering individuals in the society to do what they want regardless of whether their acts are evil or right can be justified as long as they are not hurting other people in the society? If I understand you correctly, by this statement you mean that any given individual in a society empowered by rights can do anything as long as such deeds are harmless to other people.

John Stuart Mill: Of course, according to the harm principle, in order to judge whether a society is right or wrong, it has to respect the rights of such an individual by not intervening in any actions he/she performs. By this statement I mean as long as an individual’s actions can only cause harm the specific individual alone, then a good society should not intervene. A bad society can therefore be judged on its constant interference in actions which are self regarding and which do not cause harm to other people in the society. However, the harm principle prevents such individuals from carrying out or conducting serous and lasting harm to not only themselves but to their property as well. However, given the fact that no one in the society can exist in isolation, any harm caused to oneself cannot only cause harm to the particular person but to other people as well and any destruction to property does not only deprive the individual in question, but the society as well (Eggleston, B, et al. (2011).

Me: Mr. Mill, I think that a good society can be judged by its respect to human’s rights which comprise the right to life, the right to descent housing, the right to a fair trial and the respect for human life. However, I noticed that there is contradiction in your statements because as much as you advocate for the non-intervention of society towards an individual’s actions which cannot cause harm to others, you also insist on the fact that individuals should be restrained from doing actions which may cause harm to themselves and to the society in general. What is your exact position regarding this? I would say that a good society is the one which is be concerned about the welfare of other people in the society.

John Stuart Mill: For any given social and intellectual progress in any good society, free discourse is a necessity. My arguments are solely based on the Utility principle and not based on the appeals towards natural rights. In essence, all harms may include both acts of commission.

Me: So what are the characteristics of a good society or how can one judge a society as either being bad or wrong?

John Stuart Mill: A good society can be judged through social liberty in which such a society is protected from the effects resulting or arising from the tyranny of its political rulers which may comprise of social tyranny and the majority’s tyranny. A good society should therefore have social liberty in which limits are put on the ruler’s power in order to prevent such a ruler from using the authoritative power in making on wishes and decisions which could eventually harm the society. A good society is therefore one which is empowered with rights to have a greater say in the decisions made by its government. Any society in which its people are denied an opportunity of having a say regarding the decisions made by its government can therefore be judged as bad.

Me: What elements or tools can be used in measuring how good a particular society is, given the fact that it may be complex to ascertain whether a given society in the world is good or bad?

John Stuart Mill: There are no definite tools or elements that we can use to measure the goodness of any given society. However, a good society can be judged through the execution of its mandates for the benefit of the general society. A good society should therefore be one in which its individuals are allowed to do anything freely according to their wishes unless such actions can cause harm to other people. A “good society” should thus exercise freedom of speech for its people and sustain both political and economic democracy for the benefit of its people.

Me: Thank you very much Mr. Mill for your thoughts which have both been well presented and articulated. I strongly agree with you that a good society is one in which the government respects the rights of individuals through non interference. In addition, I also agree with you on the fact that a good society is one in which its governments or rulers give its people the rights of not only being engaged in decision making but helping to implement such decisions for the benefit of its people. However, we have to agree that people should not engage in any bad activities meant to harm themselves since such harm may eventually have negative influence on other people as well. I am really thankful for your time in answering the above question which has caused debate among various people across the world.

John Stuart Mill: Thank you. I do appreciate the fact you now know how we can be able to differentiate a good society from a bad one through basing on the various points we have discussed. As members of different societies we have to make great effort in ensuring that the society we live in is good. This can only be achieved through actions, actually good ones, which can bring mutual benefit and not harm to the society as whole.

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