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PHIL 105 Philosophy of Law

Published : 23-Sep,2021  |  Views : 10


Is justice mainly about happiness, or about freedom? Compare the answers of J.S. Mill and Rousseau?



The whole concept of “justice” in itself is controversial, as different philosophers had different ways of defining what constitutes justice. However, usually the term justice is being used to imply a sense of fairness whereby no individual is being deprived of his rights, and if any of the rights is being violated, the violator, who is essentially a part of the society essentially, compensates the same. Although the term ‘justice’ brings in a sense of moral and ethical attitude towards life, it is quite strange that not all the justice theories essentially reflect a sense of morality. Hence, the thesis statement of this essay is to whether the ulterior goal of social justice is to ensure overall happiness for all the residents of the society, or should it aim at providing equal treatment to each one, thereby allowing freedom to each individual entity.


J.S Mill has propounded the theory of Utilitarianism that essentially connects justice with morality, and according to Mill any society that intends to promote justice must ensure happiness and well-being of each of its residents. Social welfare of all the residents of a society is thus the ulterior aim of the theory of Utilitarianism (Ryan). However, critics have argued that if all the members are to be kept happy, it would imply a moral slip, as someone might be happy destroying lives or harming fellow humans, and how can that ensure justice for each member. However, it is important to note here that Mill’s theory of justice is a little contradictory, in the sense that he talks of the importance of maximizing happiness while ensuring social justice, and at the same time, he restricts the rights of people to do anything and everything as it tends to destroy happiness. Mill believes it is just for any society or even an individual to try to maximize his happiness by whatever possible means, and yet he restricts the flexibility associated with this by claiming that the individual should however, not violate any moral right or duty, in the process of his pursuing happiness. Mill believes that an individual should try to keep himself happy, but however, he should not violate important rights, such as rights of education or property in the process (Donner). Mill’s theory claims that it is just for the government to offer ample employment opportunities to its residents of the country, but it is unjust if any of these residents tries to harm the moral right of another person, and take away his piece of land or steals his money (Riley). Mill believes in individual freedom in pursuit of happiness as part of justice, but he restricts too much of individual freedom.

However, on the other hand, it is equally important to take into account the definition of justice by Rousseau. Rousseau’s theory of justice is inextricably associated with the concept of democracy. Rousseau maintains that there is always the presence of a universal law of justice, the law of God that necessarily states what rights is and what is wrong (Thompson). However, not each one living in a society can be expected to comply with the laws of Divinity, and therein lays the importance of forming a government that has a set of well-written laws pertaining to what is just for each one inhabiting the society (Blaug et al.). However, this theory of justice is also questionable. It can be argued that if the power to decide the laws is being given in the hands of a limited few that section of the society would draft each law of justice in accordance with their own benefits and gains, and this would imply some people would be privileged while others would remain deprived. The outcome would be unequal treatment of the people that directly contradicts the definition of justice. However, Rousseau, in “The Social Contract” clearly states that in a democratic nation, any law is formed by taking the consent of, and in compliance with the major part of the society, and the major part of the society would never take a decision that would imply unjust treatment of its residents (Rousseau). Rousseau states that justice is not defined as the power in the hands of the strongest few, and he states that justice can be ensured only after the government allows and secures individual freedom of each of its residents (Skryms). For Rousseau freedom is highly important a concept, and unless the social beings are being offered freedom they cannot be said to be free. However, that freedom should be reconciled with the freedom of the authority of the state.

While Mill claims that ensuring the overall happiness of each of the members of a society is important for ensuring justice, Rousseau believes that the reconciliation of the individual freedom with the freedom of the state authority constitutes justice. However, I believe that though each of the theories is right in its own way, I would like to state that freedom aided by the right conscience would ensure justice. I cannot agree with Mill that happiness is the ulterior goal of justice. Stealing someone’s property can make one happier, while throwing away an old father forcefully out of the home may also constitute happiness of another man, and yet none of the situations can be defined to be just (Rousseau). On the other hand, as an individual is being offered freedom, he can use his judgement, seek the truth and live his life in accordance with that. However, I am aware that someone can argue that offering individual freedom to each man may lead to a series of unjust acts, such as a man offered the liberty to act on his own judgment may decide to beat someone, harm someone or even steal someone’s money, as he is free to do anything he wishes to do. However, I would like to reply that if a society aims to ensure happiness, it would essentially lead to vandalism and self-destruction, as more powerful people would necessarily use their power to seek their happiness by destroying the happiness of others (Rousseau). However, by freedom, I mean to say the right of every individual to live a free life, not by violating the Divine Law but in compliance with the same. In absence of freedom, the wealthier section of society can exploit and enslave the less privileged people, and ask them to serve their will, for creating their happiness. On the other hand, if freedom is ensured, each individual will be able to claim his rights and live a socially just life. I would further exemplify the situation, stating how patriarchal domestication of women has been claimed to be justified as it served the benefits and happiness of the male members of the society, though it was ignoring the interests of the women. It is only when the women would be allowed to be free to act according to their wish, such as cook food or do jobs, as per what they want in life, can the society talk of having ensured justice (Dell).


To conclude, I would like to mention here that while discussing about justice, happiness and freedom both should be ensured. However, freedom is considerably more important as it ensures that each member of the society has the power to act according to his will, instead of getting exploited and not being able to protest. However, it is important to note that freedom does not refer to the unrestrained and untamed fierce energy of man that can destroy the happiness or justice of fellow human beings. It implies the freedom to act in accordance with the Divine Law and moral judgments of the world. Happiness, along with justice would necessarily follow from this form of freedom.


Blaug, Ricardo, and John Schwarzmantel, eds. Democracy: A reader. Columbia University Press, 2016.

Dell, Jenna. "The complex relationship of the social contract and social entrepreneurism in higher education." Journal of Entrepreneurship Education 17.1 (2014): 101.

Donner, Wendy. "Huei-chun Su, Economic Justice and Liberty: The Social Philosophy in John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, pp. xx+ 214." (2015).

Riley, Jonathan. "Mill's radical liberalism: an essay in retrieval." (2015).

Rousseau, Denise M., and Denise M. Rousseau. "Free will in social and psychological contracts." Society and Business Review 11.2 (2016): 210-216.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, plus Discourses. B&R Samizdat Express, 2015.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The social contract. Open Road Media, 2016.

Ryan, Alan. "16. Utilitarianism and Bureaucracy: The Views of JS Mill." (2015).

Skyrms, Brian. Evolution of the social contract. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Thompson, Dennis F. John Stuart Mill and representative government. Princeton University Press, 2015.

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