Mill’s Cooperative Socialism and the Cultivation of Character

Edison Yi
22 min readApr 10, 2021



This essay seeks to explain examine Mill’s account of cooperative socialism’s instrumental role in the cultivation of character. It argues that Mill endorses a view which sees character development as both a precondition and a consequence of socialism. The claim that socialism is an important source of character cultivation is defended by drawing from Mill’s educative argument for democracy. Further, the essay argues that the relational egalitarian features of socialism strengthen its ability to cultivate good character. Mill endorses a type of socialism that retains market competition for the foreseeable future, describing the market as a necessary evil. However, I argue that Mill’s ideal society would be one that leaves behind the motivational function of market competition, and that, on Mill’s view, such a society can only be made possible through sufficient intellectual and moral development. This reading of Mill is closely relevant to the modern debate about market socialism. Rather than seeing market socialism as a mere compromise, those who espouse utopian ideals should follow Mill in seeing market socialism as a potential educative device that prepares us intellectually and morally for the adoption of higher ideals. (word count: 188)

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Why socialism? One surprising answer might be that socialism cultivates good character. That such an answer would come from a self-described utilitarian might be even more surprising. Nevertheless, I wish to argue that J. S. Mill gives just this answer. This essay seeks to explain Mill’s account of character development as an integral part of his utilitarianism and elucidate the significance of Mill’s contention that cooperative socialism converts ‘each human being’s daily occupation into a school of the social sympathies and the practical intelligence’ (Principles of Political Economy (PPE), 792). To my knowledge, the relationship between character cultivation and Mill’s socialism is under-explored in the existing literature and has received no standalone examination.

In section 1 of the essay, I will expound the cooperative socialism that Mill advocates for. In section 2, I turn to his argument for evolutionary socialism, noting his contention that character development is a prerequisite to socialism. Section 3 argues for an interpretation of Mill’s philosophy that places central importance in character cultivation, tracing the importance of character to Mill’s qualitative utilitarianism. The development of moral and intellectual faculties is not only instrumental for the happiness of individuals but also how well a society can function. In section 4 and 5, I advance Millian arguments for cooperative socialism as a uniquely important source of character cultivation, drawing from Mill’s educative argument for democracy. Lastly, in section 6, I argue that Mill regarded market competition as a necessary evil until sufficient moral development is widespread. However, he hoped that we would one day grow out of the need for the motivational function of market competition.

1. Mill’s Cooperative Socialism

In his Autobiography, Mill states that his ‘ideal of ultimate improvement’ would classify him ‘decidedly under the general designation of Socialists’ (Autobiography, 239). By socialism, Mill means ‘any system, which requires that the land and instruments of production should be the property, not of individuals, but of communities or associations, or of the government’ (PPE, 203). Crucially, what Mill supports are decentralized forms of socialism. He rejects the ‘tyranny of society over the individual which most Socialistic systems are supposed to involve’ (Autobiography, 239) and characterizes centrally planned economies as ‘obviously chimerical’ due to the difficulty of ‘conducting the whole industry of a country by direction from a single centre’ (Chapters on Socialism (COS), 748).

Although Mill held positive attitudes toward many forms of socialism, he refers to cooperative socialism as ‘the nearest approach to social justice, and the most beneficial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is possible at present to foresee…’ (PPE, 794). Under cooperative socialism, the economy would be dominated by cooperative firms, or ‘associations of labourers… on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves’ (PPE, 783–784). Such cooperative firms would thus be democratically organized internally and may choose any distribution of remuneration that they see fit. Cooperative firms must meet two further constraints. Firstly, new workers may not be hired on a waged basis, and must instead enter as members who would receive ‘the full benefits of the association’ (ibid). Secondly, the capital of a cooperative is indivisible. Members may quit the cooperative but they may carry ‘none of the capital with them’ (ibid). These constraints ensure that all and only workers in a cooperative firm will own the firm’s capital.

Though Mill is a socialist, he believes that many of his contemporary socialists are wrong to overlook the benefits and necessity of competition, at least at present (PPE, 794–796). Mill advocates for a socialism that retains the market, where cooperatives compete amongst themselves ‘for the benefit of the consumers, that is, of the associations; of the industrious classes generally’ (ibid, 795). In his advocacy of cooperatives, workplace democracy, and market competition, Mill’s views anticipate the market socialist model defended by contemporary theorists such as David Miller (1990) and David Schweickart (2011).

2. Evolutionary Socialism

Mill believed that social and economic forces would naturally drive a gradual transformation toward cooperative socialism. (Persky, 2016, 2019). As Dale Miller (2003) noted, Mill envisioned a natural transformation toward socialism where capitalist rights of property are respected throughout.

Putting aside Mill’s empirical predictions, he also offers normative arguments for a gradual transition to cooperative socialism, which had ‘the great advantage that it can be brought into operation progressively, and can prove its capabilities by trial’ (COS, 737). Moreover, for Mill, the success and feasibility of any kind of socialism depended crucially on workers having a sufficient level of moral and intellectual development as a precondition (PPE, 985; COS, 748; Autobiography, 240). Cooperative associations are not suitable for those ‘who have too little understanding, or too little virtue, to be capable of learning to act on any other system than that of narrow selfishness’ (PPE, 793). Even though Mill thought that, for reasons we will discuss, cooperatives turn ‘each human being’s daily occupation into a school of the social sympathies and the practical intelligence’ (emphasis mine; ibid, 792), intellectual and moral development takes time, and this temporal constraint rules out revolutionary socialism. ‘Perhaps for a considerable length of time’, Mill thinks that capitalist and cooperative firms will coexist; but as more and more people achieve the necessary level of moral and intellectual development (partially due to the educative role of cooperatives), cooperatives will come to dominate (ibid).

3. The Central Importance of Character Cultivation for Mill

It is hard to overstate the importance of character cultivation for Mill. Alan Ryan (1988; p. 255) went so far as to state that ‘Mill’s concern with self-development and moral progress is a strand in his philosophy to which almost everything else is subordinate’.[1]

Mill’s emphasis on character development can be traced back to his qualitative utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism, Mill distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures with the well-known competent judge test: higher pleasures are preferred to ‘any quantity’ of a lower pleasure by those who are ‘competently acquainted with both’ (U, 211–212).[2]

Immediately after introducing the distinction between higher and lower pleasures, Mill introduces the concept of ‘higher faculties’. Employing the competent judges test, Mill thought that it was ‘an unquestionable fact’ that competent judges ‘give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties’ (U, 211).

The possession of these faculties requires cultivation. They are described as a ‘very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance’ and he laments that ‘in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise’ (ibid, 213). Given that higher pleasures are preferred to ‘any quantity’ of a lower pleasure, Mill unsurprisingly regards the cultivation of higher faculties as extremely important for happiness (U, 215).

What higher faculties does Mill have in mind? Throughout many of his works, Mill highlights the intellectual and moral faculties.[3] Due to space constraints, the accounts of Mill’s conceptions of moral and intellectual faculties that I sketch here are necessarily simplifications, but they are sufficient to help us see how character cultivation serves as an argument for socialism for Mill. To start with the former, ‘next to selfishness’, Mill declares, ‘the principal cause which makes life unsatisfactory, is want of mental cultivation’ (U, 215). To exercise one’s intellectual faculty is to endorse beliefs reflectively. It is not enough, for Mill, to just ‘assent[.] undoubtingly’ to dogma, even if the dogma in question is true (On Liberty (OL), 244). What Mill finds more valuable than mere true belief is ‘understanding’, which consists in ‘learning the grounds of one’s own opinions’ (ibid).[4] The cultivation of the intellectual faculty, then, consists in developing an appetite for understanding, and this involves being intellectually active, open-minded, and resistant to holding dogmatic beliefs (Clor, 1985; p. 21).[5]

Nevertheless, Mill finds selfishness to be the primary cause of unhappiness. For him, to cultivate the moral faculty is

to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole… so that not only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual motives of action… (U, 218).

Moral virtue is, therefore, the disposition to associate one’s own happiness with and promote the general good. Cultivating moral faculty consists in cultivating other-regarding desires.

Mill claims that ‘utilitarianism… could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character’ (U, 213–214).[6] Mill mentions two reasons for this extraordinary claim. Firstly, the nobleness of character makes the agents themselves happier. As we’ve seen, Mill believes that ‘the pleasures derived from the higher faculties [are] preferable in kind’ (ibid, 213). Secondly, Mill contends that ‘nobleness of character’ also ‘makes other people happier, and that the world in general is immensely a gainer by it’ (ibid, 213). We can see part of Mill’s reason for this claim in his Considerations on Representative Government (CRG), where he states that ‘the first element of good government’ is ‘the virtue and intelligence of the human beings composing the community’ (CRG, 390).[7] Mill points out that

Government consists of acts done by human beings; and if the agents, or those who choose the agents… are mere masses of ignorance, stupidity, and baleful prejudice, every operation of government will go wrong: while, in proportion as the men rise above this standard, so will the government improve in quality… (CRG, 390).

This point applies to all societal institutions that require human administration, from the state to the workplace. Remember that Mill thought character development to be a prerequisite to cooperative socialism. Nonetheless, as we will see in the next section, Mill also regarded cooperative associations as a unique and important source of cultivation.

4. The Democratic Workplace and the Cultivation of Character

Mill frequently refers to the educative effects of cooperatives as one of its principal benefits (Autobiography, 241; PPE, 768–9, 792). We can trace this back to a central argument: workers exercise their moral and intellectual faculties as they engage in collective self-government; and ‘the mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used’ (OL, 262–3).[8]

To understand this argument, we can look to his well-known educative argument for representative democracy. In Considerations on Representative Government, Mill argues against a despotic form of government. He asserts that the foremost criterion of ‘the goodness of a government’ is its tendency to ‘promote the virtue and intelligence of the people’ (CRG, 390). Under a despotic government, most people have no prospect of making a difference in public affairs. However, ‘the only sufficient incitement to mental exertion, in any but a few minds in a generation, is the prospect of some practical use to be made of its results’ (CRG, 400). Consequently, the people suffer ‘in their intelligence’ (ibid). Moreover, ‘their moral capacities are equally stunted’ (ibid); Mill declares, ‘let a person have nothing to do for his country, and he will not care for it.’ (ibid, 401).

In contrast, where there is active participation in public affairs, both intellectual and moral faculties are exercised. In deliberating the public good, the individual is

called upon, while so engaged, to weigh interests not his own… to apply, at every turn, principles and maxims which have for their reason of existence the common good: and he usually finds associated with him in the same work minds more familiarized than his own with these ideas and operations, whose study it will be to supply reasons to his understanding, and stimulation to his feeling for the general interest. He is made to feel himself one of the public, and whatever is for their benefit to be for his benefit. (emphasis mine; CRG, 411)

In short, participating in public decision making facilitates intellectual understanding and nourishes moral virtue. This line of reasoning applies as much to the workplace as to the government (Pateman, 1970). In De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [II] (TDA II), Mill asserts that the lack of engagement with the public good in one’s occupation has a harmful effect on one’s character development because it ‘tends to fasten his attention and interest exclusively upon himself…: making him indifferent to the public, to the more generous objects and the nobler interests, and, in his inordinate regard for his personal comforts, selfish and cowardly.’ (TDA II, 169).

Although Mill does not explicitly compare the effects of participating in the workplace and government, his assertions seem to commit him to regard the former as a better source of education. He writes that participating in the election of national officials ‘only once in a few years, and for which nothing in the daily habits of the citizen has prepared him, leaves his intellect and his moral dispositions very much as it found them’ (TDA, 168). Ultimately, ‘citizenship fills only a small place in modern life, and does not come near the daily habits or inmost sentiments’ (SW, 295). For this reason, local governments, religion, voluntary associations, and the family are much more important than the national government as sources of virtue (Berkowitz, 1999). For the same reason, cooperatives are an unparalleled source of cultivation, as they convert ‘each human being’s daily occupation into a school of the social sympathies and the practical intelligence’ (PPE, 792).

The cultivation of character is by no means the only benefit of socialism for Mill.[9] The next section turns to Mill’s contention that cooperative socialism promotes relational equality. It also contends that the relational egalitarian features of socialism strengthen its ability to cultivate good character.

5. Cultivation of Character and Relational Equality

Elizabeth Anderson (2010) and Piers Norris Turner (2020a, 2020b) have argued that Mill endorses relational egalitarian principles. Turner (2020a, p. 12) argues that relational egalitarian principles play a crucial part in Mill’s support of cooperatives. Following relational egalitarian lines, Mill criticizes capitalism for ‘dividing the producers into two parties with hostile interests and feelings, the many who do the work being mere servants under the command of the one who supplies the funds’ (PPE, 769). Further, in his discussion of cooperatives, Mill argues that they realize ‘the best aspirations of the democratic spirit, by putting an end to the division of society into the industrious and the idle’ (PPE, 793). Although these are undoubtedly what one would expect to find in the writings of a relational egalitarian, his credentials as a relational egalitarian need to be somewhat qualified.[10] My focus here, however, is not whether Mill is appropriately classified as a committed relational egalitarian. I wish to bring our attention to the instrumental importance of relational equality for character development.

For Mill, socialist workplaces will curtail relations of dependence and lead to relations of equality (PPE, 768–770, 773). In doing so, they remove relations of inequality which have harmful effects on character. To understand why relational equality is an important condition for character development, we need to look to Mill’s work on representative government and women’s rights. In CRG, Mill considers whether the freedom to dissent and exert oneself might be sufficient for the development of human faculties despite a lack of power to vote or participate in political decision making. Mill ultimately rejects this claim and argues that ‘the maximum of the invigorating effect of freedom upon the character is only obtained, when the person acted on either is, or is looking forward to becoming, a citizen as fully privileged as any other’ because it is ‘a great discouragement’ for individuals to be ‘reduced to plead from outside the door to the arbiters of their destiny’ (CRG, 411). Similarly, even if workers in capitalist firms have certain means to influence a firm’s decision making despite their socially inferior position, Mill would expect the ameliorative effects of such freedoms to be impeded by relational inequality.

The inequality in status is not just harmful to those of a lower status. In The Subjection of Women (SW), Mill argues that a patriarchal relationship in the family harms both the woman and the man. In such a family, the woman suffers from being denied the ability to make decisions. However, the man, who wields despotic power, is also taught to be selfish and to ‘worship their own will’ (SW, 293, 324).

It is not hard to see how the same arguments can be used to strengthen the character cultivation argument for cooperative socialism. Relational inequality in the workplace not only harms the workers’ character development by denying them opportunities to participate in decision making and cultivating in them an attitude of deference, it also harms the superiors by cultivating selfishness in them. Further, the effect of this on society will be magnified by the disproportional power of those superiors.

6. Competition and the Ideal

Mill’s account of character development, as presented, naturally produces a worry about a crucial aspect of his cooperative socialism — market competition. If people are to compete with each other, what guarantees that their relationship would be one of ‘friendly rivalry in the pursuit of a good common to all’ (PPE, 789)? The worry is made all the more pressing by the fact that the competitive relation between cooperative firms (or individuals) means that their interests are often opposed to each other: firms compete over market opportunities and aim to take over one another. Even if we grant that cooperation within the firm will lead to altruistic sentiments within the firm, we may suspect that cooperative socialism will foster hostility between firms in a way that non-competitive forms of socialism won’t.

Mill did not fail to see this worry in the context of cooperative socialism, saying that he does not pretend that it is ‘groundless’ to see competition ‘as a source of jealousy and hostility’ (PPE, 795). One response open to Mill is to be optimistic about the effects of cooperation and participation. After all, the principles of justice that one would draw on when contemplating decisions in a cooperative workplace apply equally to those outside the association. Mill’s explicit response is, however, to regard competition as a necessary evil that ‘prevents greater evils’ (ibid). He argues that competition is at present a necessary stimulus to guard against ‘the natural indolence of mankind’ and ‘their tendency to be passive’ (ibid). However, Mill is careful to stress that this is only the case ‘in the present state of society and industry’ (ibid).

In the far future, Mill thinks it conceivable that we may not need competition. Mill’s general attitudes toward socialism without market competition are positive, but he questions its present feasibility at large scales. Mill used ‘communism’ to designate a society where private property is entirely abolished and the link between labour and remuneration is severed (PPE, 203). As McCabe (2019; p. 302) pointed out, ‘communism, for Mill, involved the “highest” principles of distributive justice — either equal shares or “from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs”’.[11] Mill calls the ‘proportioning of remuneration to work done’ a ‘compromise with the selfish type of character formed by the present standard of morality’ (PPE, 210). In a similar vein, Mill writes that ‘the competition of the market’, as a ‘method of settling the labourer’s share of the produce’, is certainly ‘not a moral ideal’ (Auguste Comte and Postivism (ACP), 340–341). In contrast, Mill offers the following vision:

every person who lives by any useful work, should be habituated to regard himself not as an individual working for his private benefit, but as a public functionary… we should regard working for the benefit of others as a good in itself; that we should desire it for its own sake, and not for the sake of remuneration, which cannot justly be claimed for doing what we like … and that the moral claim of any one in regard to the provision for his personal wants, is not a question of quid pro quo in respect to his co-operation, but of how much the circumstances of society permit to be assigned to him, consistently with the just claims of others. To this opinion we entirely subscribe. (ibid)

What is described here seems to be an internalization of communist principles. It is clear that a person who satisfies such a criterion has formed the ‘indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole’ which Mill prizes as the aim of moral development (U, 218). Nevertheless, in his discussion of communism, Mill thought that it to be only immediately available for the elite of mankind and that it was an open question as to whether it will be available for society at large (McCabe, 2019; COS, 746–8). What hinders communism’s availability is precisely the insufficient moral and intellectual development among the population, as communism

requires a high standard of both moral and intellectual education in all the members of the community — moral, to qualify them for doing their part honestly and energetically in the labour of life under no inducement but their share in the general interest of the association, and their feelings of duty and sympathy towards it; intellectual, to make them capable of estimating distant interests and entering into complex considerations… (COS, 746).

This bar is much higher than that for cooperative socialism, for which the bar is only that those involved cannot have ‘too little understanding, or too little virtue, to be capable of learning to act on any other system than that of narrow selfishness’ (PPE, 793). Under cooperative socialism, workers can act for a mix of selfish and other-regarding reasons, but communism requires workers to work solely for the general interest. Nevertheless, Mill’s claim that communism is made presently inaccessible by a lack of moral and intellectual development strengthens the impetus for cooperative socialism, which, as we’ve seen, serves as an important educative instrument.

Mill’s evaluation of communism is closely relevant to a modern debate between market and non-market socialists, who disagree over what constitutes the socialist ideal. The non-market socialists’ charge against market socialism finds its best expression in Cohen (2009) who argues that market societies bring to ‘prominence’ motivations of ‘greed and fear’ (p. 39–40). Cohen contrasts this with a society that realizes a principle of communal reciprocity, where ‘I produce in a spirit of commitment to my fellow human beings: I desire to serve them while being served by them, and I get satisfaction from each side of that equation’ (ibid, 41). Cohen draws on the same ideal in his reply to Nozick’s famous charge that liberty upsets patterns. He argues that socialists need not enforce distributive justice by coercion. Rather, people may refrain to act in ways that upset of pattern of just distribution out of ‘a (noninstrumental) desire for community, a relish of cooperation, and an aversion to being on either side of a master/servant relationship’ (Cohen, 1995, p. 28). As such, liberty need not be incompatible with ‘patterned’ distributive justice.

Cohen’s principle of communal reciprocity and Mill’s ideal of moral development constitute an ideal that is ultimately concerned with our motivations. It requires our economic actions to aim at the common good. Once we make this clear, we can see that what stands in tension with this ideal is neither the market nor competition per se. The ideal only requires that we give up the motivational function of the market. This is compatible with retaining the information function of the market (Cohen, 2009; Carens, 1981, 2003).[12] Nor does it require the elimination of competition. Indeed, Mill thought the absence of competition to be dangerous for the cultivation of human faculties. He worries that ‘to be protected against competition is to be protected in idleness, in mental dulness; to be saved the necessity of being as active and as intelligent as other people (PPE, 795). What our highest ideals rule out is competing over material incentives for selfish purposes. As Mill notes, a competition over ‘who can do most for the common good’ is not the kind of competition that socialists repudiate (PPE, 205). Moreover, David Miller (2014; p. 133) reminds us that we should not rule out the possibility of engaging in competitive or market relations purely instrumentally ‘whilst fully conscious that she was participating in a practice whose value lay in its overall contribution to social welfare’. Miller (1989; p. 221) asks us to imagine a game of tennis between two friends. Although the only goal of both friends is to give pleasure to the other person, they are aware that the only way to achieve this is by having each trying their best to win. The relationship between the two friends is superficially competitive but cooperative at its core. Thus, so long as a society retains the right kind of market or competitive relationship, we can simultaneously avoid being dominated by motivations of ‘greed and fear’ and avoid the dangers of protecting people in mental idleness. There is therefore a highly qualified compatibility between Mill’s highest ideals and individuals (and cooperatives) standing in market or competitive relationships with each other.

Therefore, what Mill ultimately prizes is the psychological severance of the connection between remuneration and labour. However, this does not lead to the conclusion that the actual distributive principle we adopt is unimportant. In my view, the actual severance of the connection should be understood as both a consequence of the psychological severance, and a contributor to its success. It is a consequence because, once people have developed such a public spirit, then the remunerative principle that they democratically choose will surely be one that embodies it. It also contributes to the psychological severance because the remunerative principle that we adopt has a formative influence on how we regard our work. At several points, Mill emphasizes that ‘no soil could be more favourable to the growth of [the public spirit], than a communist association’ (PPE, 205; COS, 746).

For all that I have said, Mill ultimately regards the feasibility of widespread adoption of the communistic principle as ‘an open question’ (COS, 746). It is likely for this reason that Mill referred to competitive cooperative socialism as the ‘nearest approach to social justice, and the most beneficial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is possible at present to foresee’ (Emphasis added; PPE, 794).


Mill’s prescription for the present moment is that ‘time is ripe for commencing [a] transformation’ toward cooperative or market socialism (ibid). This form of socialism, though unsatisfactory as an ideal, will serve as fertile ground for the intellectual and moral cultivation that is necessary to make possible the realization of our higher ideals. Along the way, we ‘would realize, at least in the industrial department, the best aspirations of the democratic spirit…’ (ibid, 793). But in the end, it is an open question as to whether cooperative socialism will pave the way to the realization of our highest ideals.

Inaccessible Bibliography

Morales, M. H. (1996). Perfect equality: John Stuart Mill on well-constituted communities. Rowman & Littlefield.

Duncan, G. C. (1977). Marx and Mill: two views of social conflict and social harmony. CUP Archive.


Mill’s Works Referenced

CW: Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by J. Robson, 33 Vols. University of Toronto Press.

PPE: Principles of Political Economy (1848) [CW II–III] CW pagination.

COS: Chapters on Socialism (1850) [CW V]. CW pagination.

OL: On Liberty (1859) [CW XVIII]. CW pagination.

U: Utilitarianism (1861) [CW X]. CW Pagination

CRG: Considerations on Representative Government (1861) [CW XIX]. CW pagination.

SW: The Subjection of Women (1869) [CW XXI]. CW pagination.

ACP: Auguste Comte and Postivism (1865), [CW X]. CW pagination.

Autobiography (1873) [CW I]. CW pagination.

TDA II: Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ part two (1840), [CW XVIII]. CW pagination.

Other References

1. Anderson, E. (2010) “The Fundamental Disagreement between Luck Eglitarians and Relational Egalitarians,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 40(sup1) 1–23.

2. Baum, B. (1999). JS Mill’s conception of economic freedom. History of Political Thought, 20(3), 494–530.

3. Baum, B. (2007). JS Mill and liberal socialism. JS Mill’s Political Thought: A Bicentennial Reassessment, 98–123.

4. Berkowitz, P. (1999). Virtue and the making of modern liberalism (Vol. 23). Princeton University Press.

5. Carens, J. H. (1981). Equality, moral incentives, and the market: an essay in utopian politico-economic theory.

6. Carens, J. H. (2003). An interpretation and defense of the socialist principle of distribution. Social Philosophy & Policy, 20(1), 145.

7. Clor, H. M. (1985). Mill and Millians on Liberty and Moral Character. The Review of politics, 3–26.

8. Cohen, G. A. (1995). Self-ownership, freedom, and equality. Cambridge University Press.

9. Cohen, G. A. (2009). Why not socialism?. Princeton University Press.

10. Hills, A. (2009). Moral testimony and moral epistemology. Ethics, 120(1), 94–127.

11. Hills, A. (2015). Understanding Why. Nous, 50, 1–28.

12. Ikuta, J. C. (2015). Mill as ambivalent democrat: The corruption and cultivation of human flourishing in democratic society and politics. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 41(7), 697–724.

13. McCabe, H. (2019). Navigating by the North Star: the role of the ‘ideal’ in JS Mill’s View of ‘utopian’ schemes and the possibilities of social transformation. Utilitas, 31(3).

14. Mill, J. S. (1963–1991). Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by J. Robson, 33 Vols. University of Toronto Press.

15. Miller, David. (1990). Market, state, and community: Theoretical foundations of market socialism. Oxford University Press.

16. Miller, Dale. E. (2003). Mill’s ‘socialism’. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 2(2), 213–238.

17. Pateman, C. (1970). Rousseau, John Stuart Mill and GDH Cole: a participatory theory of democracy. Participation and Democratic Theory, 444–457.

18. Persky, J. (2016). The political economy of progress: John Stuart Mill and modern radicalism. Oxford University Press.

19. Persky, J. (2020). Mill’s Socialism Re-examined. Utilitas, 1–16.

20. Ryan (1988), The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill, 2d ed. New York

21. Schweickart, D. (2011). After capitalism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

22. Turner, P. N. (2020a). Mill’s Evolutionary Theory of Justice: Reflections on Persky. Utilitas, 32(2), 131–146.

23. Turner, P. N. (2020b). John Stuart Mill on Luck and Distributive Justice. In Ian M. Church & Robert J. Hartman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Psychology of Luck. pp. 80–93. PhilArchive copy v1:

[1] Also see Berkowitz (1999) and Clor (1985).

[2] The issue of how to best interpret Mill’s views about the quality of pleasure is a matter of much scholarly dispute. For our purposes, I only claim that Mill’s utilitarianism took the quality of pleasure to be of great importance.

[3] See U, 216; COS, 710, 746; CRG, 390, 391, 392, 478, 574; OL, 262–3.

[4] Although Mill did not draw a clear distinction between knowledge and understanding, he seems to advocate for something very close to what Alison Hills calls ‘understanding’. Hills (2009, 2015) notes that we can acquire knowledge (but not understanding) by merely deferring to expert testimony. Mill would have thought this type of knowledge to be insufficient, for he requires that those who can be attributed with understanding ‘ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections’ (OL, 244).

[5]There is a lot more to Mill’s views on intellectual cultivation. For discussion, see Berkowitz (1999) and Ikuta (2015).

[6] By ‘nobleness of character’, Mill seems to mean both intellectual activeness and selflessness. Earlier in Utilitarianism, Mill contrasts an ‘enthusiasm for everything noble’ with ‘indolence and selfishness’ (U, 212).

[7] As Berkowitz (1999; 161) put it: ‘virtue is both a precondition for, and the aim of, good government’.

[8] See also TDA, 168–169; PPE, 281; U, 213.

[9] Baum (1999, 2007) argues that Mill listed ‘maximal economic freedom’ as one of the principal benefits of socialism. As Clor (1985; p. 4) points out, ‘the crux of [Mill’s argument for liberty] is that liberty promotes better human beings’. In my view, Mill’s argument for socialism from freedom is indeed intimately tied with the cultivation of character. However, I omit discussion of this due to space constraints.

[10] For example, Mill’s endorsement of plural voting would leave many relational egalitarians uneasy. His defence of every person’s right to basic subsistence also only seems to extend to those who are ‘excluded from obtaining a desirable existence… for any other cause than voluntary fault’ (COS, 713).

[11] Though both equal distribution and a distribution according to need count as ‘communist’ for Mill, as McCabe points out, Mill consistently calls the latter a ‘higher’ principle of justice (PPE, 203, 210; COS, 739); Baum (2007) rightly notes that Mill is worried about communism’s threat to individuality and mental freedom (PPE, 209; COS, 745–6). However, when Mill expressed those worries, he had in mind ‘village communit[ies] … composed of a few thousand inhabitants cultivating in joint ownership the same extent of land…’ (PPE, 203). Such worries would not arise for cooperative associations who voluntarily adopt communist distributive principles (McCabe, 2019).

[12] Carens (1981, 2003) has put forward an economic model where pre-tax levels of income signal levels of demand in the market, but everyone working full time would get the same post-tax income. Instead of material incentives, the Carensian model relies on a sense of moral duty to serve others to motivate people to take more productive jobs.



Edison Yi

This blog contains a collection of satires, notes, and essays on philosophy, economics, etc. I’m a master’s student in Philosophy at Oxford.