Philosophy for social progress

Dipak Basu has been taken to task before by readers other than myself for playing fast and loose with the facts. In his Sept. 18 letter, “Western work ethic is wanting,” he’s at it again with his mischaracterization of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill as philosophers of selfish, greedy capitalism.

Bentham’s philosophy was in fact based on a desire to promote “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” and influenced the progress in 19th-century Britain of proper sanitation, disease control (elimination of smallpox, cholera, typhus and dysentery), shorter working hours, better housing and clean drinking water. As 21st-century India has yet to catch up in this respect, maybe India’s rulers (and Basu) should study their Bentham.

Mill similarly stressed the importance of the rights of the individual — basically the right to pursue any vocation or business without falling afoul of lemming-like collectivist ideology and ending up in some God-forsaken “re-education center” in Inner Mongolia shoveling pig manure.

Also, when Basu talks of the “Western” work ethic, etc., does he mean Western Europe or the United States? There are major differences between them that Basu seems unaware of.

He is, of course, free to continue with his sycophantic adulation of the glorious Japanese system, as I am likewise free to thank God I was not born into it.

barry ward

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Good points of contrast with respect to the social aspect of Bentham’s work, but the point regarding Mill could use a little more explication.

    Mill’s advocacy of individuals right to pursue the vocation of their choice relates to the context of feudalistic society and a hypostaticised social order. That order became too oppressive and didn’t make sense after the Renaissance saw the wide reintroduction into European society of the thought from Ancient Greece and Rome.

    There is a difference between an oppressive collectivism and a notion that society is a collective. I think that you would agree that the later can be found in Bentham. And I don’t think that Mill meant to throw the baby (society) out with the bath water (feudalistic oppression).

  • Dipak Bose

    Maximization of self interest can ruin others. Bentham in his Theory of Usury supported the freedom of the money lender to charge whatever he thinks should the interest rate. If you extend that to every businessman Utilitarianism is indeed a theory of greed.
    James Mill and his son John stuart Mill were employees of the East India Company, who was then killing millions in India by creating man made famine, forcing farmers to produce opium instead of foodgrain, cutting off the hands of the Bengal weavers to promote Manchester Textile, but James Mill in his History of India and Bentham have supported the colonial occupation of India by the British.
    John Stuart Mill only propagated the theory of Adam Smith that the Government must not interfere with the functioning of the market. Citing that the British administration refused to help the victims of man made famines both in India and Ireland.
    Anglo-American support any atrocities if it would be performed by them. They also supports the evil theories of Adam Smith, Mills and Bentham.

  • Dipak Bose

    Look at what these people ( Adam smith, Bentham, James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill) wrote.
    Adam Smith calls for the freedom of the capitalists so that he can maximise his self interests, which means ruthless exploitation of the workers, because maximisation of individuals’s self interest automatically ensure society’s welfare, never mind the workers. Self interest was replaced by Bentham and Mill into a different word called Pleasure or Happiness. Otherwise they all called for non-intervention by the government in the functioning of the market.
    Why? Because they were all employed by the ruling class of Britain at that time. James and John Stuart Mill were employees of the East India Company. They along with Bentham supported the activities of the East India Company in India ignoring man-made famines, forced production of opiums in India and forceing the Chinese to buy these opiums, cutting off the hands of the weavers of India, destruction of manyfacturing industries in India and calling the people of the occupied countries as sub-human. In the History of India, James Mill described the Indians as people with less intelligence than cats and dogs. Other British were not far behind. Bishop Wilberforce, Charles Dickens, Jane Austin called for the extermination of the Hindus in India, in the same way the British exterminated the Red Indians in North America and Aborigines in Australia.
    If these people are philosophers, what was wrong with Adolf Hitler, who also wrote a book.