Finally finished the book “Utilitarianism/On Liberty”. I already read “On Liberty” before, but this combined book was on sale on Audible. I just can’t resist a discount. So I bought it. Also I have always wanted to know if the concept “the pursuit of happiness” is really from utilitarianism. If so, how does one develop one’s argument? I am more inclined towards Buddhism and Existentialism which tend to say that happiness is elusive. Still, I am ready to be converted to the happiness creed if I am convinced.
However after finishing Utilitarianism, I don’t feel I understand anything at all. It’s like sitting through a speech without comprehending what’s being presented. Fortunately, the second part of the book is more comprehensible, from which I extracted several quotes.
… for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit..that any opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error …
…his (a human being’s) errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning.
To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.
Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being “pushed to an extreme;” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.
Let us assume them to be true, and examine into the worth of the manner in which they are likely to be held, when their truth is not freely and openly canvassed. However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.
In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground.
Unmeasured vituperation (meaning bitter and abusive language) employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them.
I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they live in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done.
The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.
The same things which are helps to one person towards the cultivation of his higher nature, are hindrances to another. The same mode of life is a healthy excitement to one, keeping all his faculties of action and enjoyment in their best order, while to another it is a distracting burthen (old form of burden) , which suspends or crushes all internal life. Such are the differences among human beings in their sources of pleasure, their susceptibilities of pain, and the operation on them of different physical and moral agencies, that unless there is a corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral, and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable.
John Stuart Mill “On Liberty”