The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines utilitarianism as "the system of thought which states that the best action or decision in a particular situation is the one which most benefits the most people". This is the main idea of the system of thought and it is from this the beliefs and opinions of John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873), Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) and other early utilitarians were developed. Jeremy Bentham, a friend of J. S. Mill's father and the mentor of J. S. Mill, is usually considered the founder of British utilitarianism. J. S. Mill adapted Bentham's ideas and philosophies to meet the criticism utilitarianism encountered in Victorian times, expressing his version in the essays Utilitarianism (1861) and On Liberty (1859). Although the differences between the ideas of Bentham and Mill are very few, Mill's adjustments are important and greatly alter the basic foundations of the system.
To fully understand the origins of the ideas and opinions expressed by Mill and Bentham it is useful to examine their backgrounds and influences. John Stuart Mill was the eldest son of James Mill, a British historian, economist and philosopher. He was educated entirely by his father, who was a strict disciplinarian, and by the age of 10 had read all the Latin and Greek authors commonly read in the schools and universities of the time. His main reading, however, was history and by this age had read the whole works of the historian Herodotus, and was acquainted with the satirist Lucian, the historian of philosophy Diogenes Laërtius, the Athenian writer and educational theorist Isocrates, and six dialogues of Plato. While the training of the young Mill has aroused amazement and criticism, its most significant effect was the close association it encouraged with his father, James Mill. As a boy, he often spent much time in... [continues]
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