J.S.Mill Discusses Education and Liberty for the New Era

The literacy rate in Japan has historically been higher as compared to other nations, and this trend has been particularly notable after the implementation of compulsory education during the Meiji Era. In that sense, one can argue that Japan’s education system itself has been a success. However, concerns have been pointed out regarding the education of individualistic children in a group environment, as well as special education for the gifted.

The man who was at the forefront of educating the gifted was the 19th century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill. He was given a rigorous upbringing by his father, James Mill, and left a wide range of works in the fields of economics, political science, ethics, logic, and the philosophy of science. Perhaps his most famous publication is “On Liberty”, where he explains the essence of individual liberty and the bounds within which a nation can legitimately execute its authority, but his other publications such as “Rationale of Representation”, “Utilitarianism”, “The Principles of Political Economy”, and “The Autobiography of John Stuart Mill” are also widely read.

Mill’s ethical philosophy is famous for its slogan “greatest happiness for the greatest number” found in his writing “Utilitarianism”. This means that actions that lead to utility (pleasure and happiness) are morally right, and serves as a sharp contrast to the Kantian approach found in his “Deontology” and “Rigorism” which separate morality and judgment of right and wrong from happiness.

However, Mill also said that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”, and advocated a search for a high quality of happiness instead of falling into the trappings of hedonism.

Master Ryuho Okawa of Happy Science channeled the spirit of J.S.Mill, and asked him about his views on how to educate the gifted. The spiritual message touched not just on education, but also on a wide variety of themes including freedom and democracy.


Concerns about Rigorous Education at an Early Age

Mill’s talents flourished at an early age through his father’s rigorous education. At the age of three, he began learning Greek, and was capable of reading ancient Greek and Latin texts at an early age. By the age of 20, he was said to have gone through most fields of study including mathematics, logic, political science and economics, the natural sciences, and history.

When Mill’s spirit was asked about his experiences going through the rigorous education regime at an early age, while admitting that there are advantages to learning music and sports earlier, he points out that, “Becoming adept at a young age isn’t everything.” By touching on the example of Mozart, he emphasized that an excessive regime of education at an early age can lead to repercussions to the individual’s personality and daily life, and won’t necessarily connect to their happiness. His views on rigorous education at a young age can be seen as a cautionary tale coming from his personal experiences.

While Mill himself did not attend school, he did mention that ordinary schooling has been successful at raising the basic level of knowledge. While the group education seen in Japan has the negative side effect of suppressing the upbringing of geniuses, he did qualify his views that by slowly raising an individual’s education level one step at a time may lead to greater happiness.

Toward the end of the spiritual message, he mentions that “during times with long life expectancies, one can expect wisdom suited for such times, so you should strive to a society where an individual’s wisdom increases with age,” and emphasized the importance of continuing to learn with age instead of finishing one’s studies at a young age. Overall, the spiritual message was one that cautioned against making Mill’s personal travails into a common experience.


Protect Democracy While Avoiding the “Tyranny of the Majority”

As a utilitarianist, Mill emphasized a “happiness” where an individual’s innate talents can blossom and morality can be internalized, instead of the simple pursuit of pleasure. In order to achieve that happiness, a freedom that allows one to think and act on one’s own becomes an absolute necessity. Man cannot grow simply living according to the laws of government, hollowed out religions, or the norms and customs of society. Mill argues that man has the right to live free as long as he does not harm others (Harm Principle).

Democracy is a system where happiness can be sought by utilizing one’s wisdom and talents to its maximum potential, while rejecting rule by the few as seen under monarchs and aristocrats to ensure the integrity of freedom. Mill spent his life advocating democracy, and continually supported women’s suffrage.

However, the defining characteristic of Mill’s philosophy is that he saw through the weakness of democratic societies, and sought to reveal the conditions that would allow it to flourish. What concerned him the most was the “tyranny of the majority” whereby the majority would persecute the minority simply through the power of numbers. History is littered with examples such as Jesus Christ or Socrates, where the greats who have created the foundations of entire civilizations were persecuted by a mob of contemporaries. Mill demands a level of education and civility from the masses taking part in a participatory democracy.

His beliefs do not seem to have changed after his return to the spiritual realm. In his spiritual message, he compares the “tyranny of the majority” to a herd of buffalos, and points out its danger. “There are times when the majority opinion turns out to not be just.” “Even a leader chosen by the people does not have the eyes of God, which means there are inevitable inefficiencies.” These words reflect his worries concerning a democracy heading in the wrong direction.

Furthermore, Mill expressed confusion at contemporary society where anyone can disseminate information through books, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet. Mill’s spirit analyzed that the ideals of equality expressed within democracy have coalesced into a situation where the multitude of opinions available are treated equally, and those with and without wisdom can no longer be distinguished. This is characteristic of Mill who emphasized the difference between “the fool and Socrates”.

In addition, Mill’s spirit points out realistically that Democratic nations don’t necessarily possess a powerful military. He mentioned that democratic nations like Japan appear to be a “collection of sheep” to the likes of China, and cautioned that there were historical precedents where authoritarian nations subdued democracies.

However, democratic nations can be governed effectively under an educated and moral public. While there may be deficiencies, it cannot draw equivalence with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that reject the very concepts of freedom. Mill’s spirit mentioned the virtues of democracy compared to authoritarianism by mentioning that “leaders are continually renewed”, and that “even if a mistake is made, it is relatively easy to fix.”

Commenting on the present day authoritarian regime in China, he states that “there is an inherent problem with a system where the military and police are used to suppress the population for the purpose of unifying the country under a particular ideology”, and that “if that is going to escalate into a threat toward other nations, there needs to be seawall against it.” Furthermore, he brought up the example of a democratic Athens fighting against the invasion of the Persian Empire, and mentioned how it is still necessary, even in the present day, to fight to protect democracy. This should be taken as a warning toward many Japanese who continue to live under false complacency while being threatened by nearby nations.

Toward the end of the spiritual message, Mill returned to his views on education by emphasizing that during contemporary times when changes occur quickly, instead of finishing one’s studies at an early age, one should retain the perseverance to continue learning, have the strength to learn from one’s mistakes, and produce leaders that can make courageous decisions.

J. S. Mill delivered his views on freedom and democracy by putting human happiness at its foundation. Even after his spirit returned to heaven, he continues to look down upon the world and continues to pray that the spirit of freedom will not be extinguished. Humanity must answer his thoughts by defending freedom, and ensuring a society that will elevate human wisdom through education.

J.S.Mill Discusses Education and Liberty for the New Era
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