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Kant’s and John Stuart Mill’s Position About the Civilized Society Essay

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Updated: Nov 16th, 2021

Introduction

Kant and Mill offered their take on what constitutes a progressive or civilized society in which people pursue the best kind of life. These authors’ arguments were related but differed fundamentally in terms of the overall focus. The paper shall look at those issues from a deeper perspective.

The authors’ opinions on what the best kind of life is

Immanuel Kant believes that the best kind of life is one in which people are in constant pursuance of further enlightenment. He believes that there is no single time where society will have come upon the ultimate truth to which it binds itself to for all time. He further adds that enlightenment is depicted by progress among civilized generations and tying people to a certain symbol would be the exact opposite of this. In other words, he claims that allowing people to expand their knowledge would be the depiction of the best life because this is how enlightened societies are made of. In other words, one cannot claim that he or she belongs to a certain institution without necessarily respecting the truth.

Kant also adds that the best life occurs when another’s rights to pursue enlightenment is not hindered. This means that it is impossible to confine enlightenment within a given time or for a certain individual. Attempting to make such a state of affairs permanent either for one person or society would be moving away from the best kind of life. As a result, it can be said that Immanuel Kant’s perception of the best kind of life is seen as one in which figures in authority do not impose their own will but one in which they protect members of society from impinging upon each other’s right to expand their knowledge or their reasoning capabilities.

Similarly, John Stuart Mill concurs with Kant’s assertions on the best kind of life because he claims that the best kind of life is one in which freedom of opinion is fully expressed; this argument mirror’s Kant arguments on the pursuance of enlightenment. However, Mill believes that the pursuance of truth is what reflects true enlightenment or the best kind of life. In other words, while Immanuel Kant was dwelling on the issue of knowledge expansion as the depiction of a good life, Mill was dwelling on freedom of expression as a process of finding out the truth.

This was the reason why Mill asserts that no individual should be prevented from speaking or expressing himself /herself since by doing so, society could be placing an envelope over the truth. It can therefore be said that these author agrees to a certain extent and disagrees on what the best kind of life should be.

Another way in which Mill’s assertions resemble Kant’s on the best kind of life is with regard to the role of authority and restraint. According to Mill, people would live the best life if authority understood that it had no right to try and restrain other members of society from engaging in public discussions. Also, authority need not label one side of the debate as being wrong by default or by virtue of the side they belong to.

Authority must be in a position to create an atmosphere that encourages greater levels of discussion in a non-prejudicial or non-confrontational manner where no fact is hidden. This claim is somewhat similar to Kant’s when he talks about a member of authority’s role in ensuring that another’s right to find out the truth is not hindered in any way. Kant claims that members of authority should not impose their beliefs on members of society but that they need to ensure that the atmosphere for the expression of differing religious perspectives is promoted.

The authors’ opinions on the final goal of human civilization

Immanuel Kant believes that the ultimate goal of human civilization is to allow a man to exercise his understanding without depending on other people’s guidance. In other words, he describes this as being free from immaturity. Kant claims that society will be truly civilized if people can overcome two of the major obstacles to using their own understanding i.e. sloth and lack of courage. This author believes that the human race’s ultimate goal will be reached once a man is able to overcome the fear that comes with exerting one’s understanding.

This is especially difficult because humans have grown so accustomed to depending on a higher authority that they think it may be dangerous to depend on themselves. Additionally, a man seems to think that exercising one’s understanding would be so tedious that it cannot be possibly managed. However, once society manifests freedom, then it is likely that its members will be freed from immaturity and hence will have reached the ultimate goal of human civilization.

Indeed Immanuel Kant believes that human civilization should be characterized by a high degree of freedom. This means that the members of such a civilized society will have changed their way of thinking and that they will be able to pursue their own understanding.

Immanuel Kant however points out that the final goal in human civilization should have just the right balance of religious freedom and civil freedom. This is mostly because when there is too much civil freedom, then religious freedom may not be fully attained. On the other hand, when a certain society is characterized by less civil freedom, then both types of interests can be fully reached.

Mill differs from Kant on what the final goal of human civilization is because he believes that human beings must strive towards truth and justice. He asserts that this can only be achieved once every single person who has an opinion to express is allowed to do so, when different and opposing views are placed on the table for discussion to allow a deeper understanding of the subject if people accept something as true only after challenging it and lastly if there are certain circumstances in which people have been able to apply practically that notion that has been passed as the truth. In other words, Mill asserts that a civilized society should allow freedom of expression at all costs even when it is perceived that that opinion is erroneous or that it is perfectly true.

These two authors are different from one another because certain underlying issues govern their understanding of general perceptions of human civilization. Kant places greater precedence on the issue of pursuance of knowledge and exercising one’s understanding. On the other hand, Mill places greater precedence on the existence of different opinions and the ability of society to tolerate all these opinions.

The authors’ opinions on the relationship of one human to another

Immanuel Kant believes that human beings have the obligation of exercising their own thinking. Consequently, those who have been entrusted with positions of authority need to exercise their ability to reason. Here, the latter author cites three major examples i.e.

  • A pastor
  • A civil servant
  • A member of the military

In his arguments, he distinguishes two major applications of reason i.e. within the private domain and within the public one. He asserts that members of the authority have a duty to apply private reasoning in their work; however, he asserts that this should not be the case for one who is carrying out a public duty. For instance, if a member of the military were to start exercising their ability to reason upon being given a command, then a certain community may be plunged into chaos at that particular time.

However, Kant claims that when taking up the role of a scholar, one should exercise one’s reasoning by questioning matters related to his or her position because in so doing, one would be carrying out his right and perpetuating the same kind of approach among the masses that he or she is trying to propagate.

Immanuel Kant further adds that leaders or figures of authority should refrain from pursuing their interests; instead, they must accord members of society a right to choose even when those opinions are totally different from their own. Additionally, this means that criticisms need to be tolerated because they should be seen as vehicles of a progressive society.

John Stuart Mill differs slightly from Kant’s assertions when it comes to the relationship of one human being to another. According to him, humans have the duty of listening to one another thus allowing differing opinions that could lead to the truth. This author claims that the worst form of misdeed that one human being can carry out against the other is to judge the other as being immoral just because that person possesses a different opinion from the recipients or the popular one. He gives two examples of some of the most historic figures in literature who had been subject to this kind of judgment

  • Aristotle
  • Jesus

Mill claims that the latter figures are known to be some of the symbolic depictions of truth. However, because they did not possess popular opinion, then they were prejudged as being immoral or wicked. Jesus was condemned to death by the cross and Aristotle received one of the gravest punishments within his society. All these negative actions came about as a result of society’s inability to incorporate differing opinions or their inability to accord all persons an equal chance to express themselves.

By doing this, subsequent generations have thus called Aristotle’s and Jesus’ society unjust. This means that if the latter individuals had behaved differently, then chances are that they would have moved closer to the pursuance of truth, and also, they would have depicted greater signs of human civilization.

In making this argument, Mill explains that society should not set any boundaries for articulating one’s version of the truth even when that assertion is totally different from the truth. In other words, it should not be expected that persons offering differing opinions from the popular ones should be allowed to be zealous about their pursuit because doing so would be assuming that the prevailing opinion is the right one; something that is inherently wrong.

Conclusion

Kant and Mill’s opinions on enlightenment differ from one another largely because the authors take a different standpoint on what is the ultimate goal in life. Kant believes that the ultimate goal is the ability of society to free itself from immaturity by applying its ability to reason. On the other hand, Mill believes that the ultimate goal in life is to pursue truth and justice by according different categories of people the freedom of expression.

However, when one looks at some of the specific arguments brought out by the authors, it is possible to find some similarities. For instance, both of them claim that members of authority need to focus on creating an atmosphere conducive for expression or expansion of knowledge and that civilized societies are those ones in which differing opinions from the popular ones are allowed.

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IvyPanda. "Kant’s and John Stuart Mill’s Position About the Civilized Society." November 16, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kants-and-john-stuart-mills-position-about-the-civilized-society/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Kant’s and John Stuart Mill’s Position About the Civilized Society." November 16, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kants-and-john-stuart-mills-position-about-the-civilized-society/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Kant’s and John Stuart Mill’s Position About the Civilized Society'. 16 November.

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