Mill vs Dostoevsky
“For what is freedom? That one has the will to assume responsibility for oneself. ” (Nietzsche. Twilight of the Idols. Trans. Hollingdale. Sect. 38). Everyone desires freedom but everyone cannot handle the responsibilities of freedom. I will compare J. S. Mill’s views on the social function of freedom with that of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s characters from both, the novel Notes From Underground and the excerpt; The Grand Inquisitor, also drawing supplementary arguments from Friedrich Nietzsche, while expressing my views alongside. Mill’s core assumption of man is that he is a rational being who will strive to maximize his own utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal… on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. ” (Mill. On Liberty. Trans. Rapaport. 10). He believes man is naturally geared towards good. He believes man will always act towards his own advantage. He believes, if allowed to, man will only move in one direction; forward. Mill believes that human development and therefore the overall progression of society is best fostered in an atmosphere of complete freedom. This is a very optimistic assumption that does not dig deep into the human psyche.
His model of a utopian society does not accommodate someone with a more complex, ambivalent psyche, such as that of the “Underground Man”. An irrational man. A man who will act against his own self interest. A man who is constantly at war with himself. A more realistic version of man. Mill views pleasure and happiness as being the same. “…that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. ” ( Mill. Utilitarianism. 10).
He does not acknowledge that pain and misery may actually bring about happiness, this is one of the major flaws in his principle. “… the enjoyment here consisted precisely in the hyperconsciousness of one’s own degradation;” (Dostoevsky. Notes From Underground. Trans. Matlaw. 7-8). The “underground man” argues that there are severe consequences to complete freedom, consequences which most would not be able to deal with. “ Come, try, give anyone of us, for instance, a little more independence, untie our hands, widen the spheres of our activities, relax the controls and we- yes, I assure you- we would immediately beg to be under control again. (Dostoevsky. Notes From Underground. Trans. Matlaw. 121). “Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? ”(Dostoevsky. The Grand Inquisitor. Trans. Matlaw. 131). Nietzsche elaborates on this point by affirming the idea that we are made up of two instinctual drives: the Dionysian, which causes us to be passionate, impulsive and unrestrained, and the Apollonian which makes us disciplined, restrained and controlled beings. Mill and other utilitarian’s like Jeremy Bentham denies the former. I embrace this idea that most of us are creatures of chaos, who are born wild and need to be tamed by the structures of society.
What type of society would we live in if people did not believe in sins, or heaven and hell? Although we would like to deny it, the reality is that the greater majority of the human race is not capable of living without paternalistic laws, and moral limitations that stem from religious doctrines. J. S. Mill would strongly disagree with this statement: “ That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. ” (Mill. On Liberty.
Trans. Rapaport. 9). I do not completely disagree with all of Mill’s ideas. “… an intelligent following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent deviation from custom, is better than a blind and simply mechanical adhesion to it. ”(Mill. On Liberty. Trans. Rapaport. 57). What Mill does not come to realize but which Dostoevsky and more so Nietzsche have come to understand is that most of us are not capable of “deviation from the custom”. The key word used here and throughout this essay is “most” as opposed to “all”.
There are a select few who are strong enough to create their own morals, their own good and bad, who do not need to follow theological values. Nietzsche would describe these powerful few as having a master morality. Compared with that of weaker slave morality of those who accept an absolute truth and are not strong enough to overcome pre-conditioned doctrines that the church or governments have developed. I agree with Nietzsche in the sense that the majority of humans are incapable of creating their own good and evil, but can only follow existing theological values.
Hence, those who are able to rise above traditional norms and conventions will be the most productive, innovative member of society but these limitations have to be in place to guide the weak and humble preventing chaos in the world. Overall J. S. Mill’s concept of a utopian society of complete freedom is nothing but a concept. Most of his principles of liberty are not applicable in the world we live in; his very optimistic view of mankind is unfortunately not realistic. Mill is an advocate of individuality but never really explores deep within the individual psyche.
Instead he uses a more scientific approach to simplify the complexities of the human psyche to fit his political and moral principle of liberty. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche do examine what’s beneath surface; they travel deep within the human mind through consciousness to the core that is the unconscious. What they find brings to light numerous flaws in Mill’s principle of liberty, and more specifically, his views on the social function of freedom. “ So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find as quickly as possible someone to worship. ” ( Dostoevsky.
Notes From Underground. Trans. Matlaw. 135. ) Works Cited Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Trans. Elizabeth Rapaport. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1978. Print. Mill. John Stuart. Utilitarianism. London: Longman, Green. 1901. Ebrary Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground, Grand Inquisitor. Trans. Ralph E. Matlaw. London: First Plume Printing, 2003. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Marion Faber. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. 1998. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of Idols. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Group, 1990. Print.