Wants and Ideals in the Doctrine of Liberty
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Wants and Ideals in the Doctrine of Liberty book
So, if it is true that man’s powers of reflexive thought prevent anything in man’s social life from ever being fixed, finished or closed, then progress will consist in the open-ended transformation of the forms of man’s social life along with a search (equally interminable) for the weaknesses, incoherences and other inadequacies in his understanding of the forms of his life. This is an essentialist view of human nature according to which, paradoxically, the essence of man is identified in the discovery that man lacks any determinate generic nature such as is possessed by material objects and by unreflective creatures. It is a paradoxical version of essentialism, also, in that the indeterminacy characterising mankind as a species is qualified by the discoverable essence in which Mill believes each member of the human species to be peculiar. Mill’s theory of individuality, then, combines the claim that man is his own maker with the claim that, for each man, a nature exists which awaits discovery. Mill’s thesis is that a happy human life requires the recurrent making of choices because only choice-making can weld into an organic whole the diverse and possibly competing demands of a man’s nature. A fundamental question arises here as to whether this view of human happiness is not thoroughly ideal-regarding and, if so, whether this opens a fatal breach with anything recognisable as utilitarianism.