Posts Tagged ‘Mill’

Mill and IM Sports at U of M

As many of you know, and as the Michigan Daily pointed out, IM sports is kind of sexist when it comes to Co-Ed leagues. In soccer, a goal by a girl is worth twice as much as a girl by a boy, and in flag football there is criteria for how often the ball needs to be touched by a female on the team. I have seen multiple posts about David Stern’s comments on women in the NBA, and this has spawned some great ides about different ideas of equality in the sports realm. While those of us who are scrambling to put together the final touches on our blog posts, I offer this one as a post to which many of us can relate to personally. What are your views on the (supposedly) flawed system that our intramural sports department had, and how do you think J.S. Mill would form his argument against the system? Before you spit it out that Mill favors equality in every sense of the word, think about the safety of the female participants involved, and how Mill would view the scoring system as well as admittance into a co-ed league.

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As I was reading John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, all that came to my mind was how drastically the rights for women have changed over the 20th century.  This led me to think of how long it has taken for Mill’s ideas to actually come to pass; he was far ahead of his time in many ways as far as marriage laws and the equality of women went but what struck me the most was Mill’s notion of the effect of the law to the status quo as far as the treatment of women goes.  The equality in law, as seen in education (as the foundation of equality in the workplace), does not always equate to equality in the real world due to the societal acceptance.

Mill made me think of my own family’s history. If I look back three generation on either side there is a vast discrepancy between the rights the laws grant women and the way women were actually treated. On my dad’s side, my great grandmother, who was born in 1912, was not allowed to go to high school or college because her family did not want her to, but the law granted that right to her.  Whereas my grandma was able to go to high school, both by the permission of her family and by law, but was not able to continue on with college because her family felt that it was her duty as a woman to marry my grandfather.

Now on my mother’s side, my great grandma went as far as her small country school would allow her to. However, her daughter, my grandmother, was given the opportunity to go to college, which was extremely rare for women at that time.  I find the reality of this absolutely appalling. According to the American Association of University Women, women were allowed to attend higher education institutions beginning in 1848, but the Association also notes that by 1870 only .7% of the female population was going to college, then 2.8% in 1900, and 7.6% in 1920.  It was still considered quite rare for women to go to college when my grandmother went in 1947 and yet again when my mother went to college in 1976.  There is obviously a social constraint on women that the law alone was not resolving.

Mill was pushing for the law to ensure total equality between men and women, which seems odd for a man to be advocating for the rights of women in the 19th century.  It’s surprising to discover that Mill was writing for the equality of women in 1869 and then to realize that women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.  We can see from looking in just four generation of women how far ahead of his time Mill really was in his regards to the advancements of the rights of women and his thoughts on the correlation between the status quo and laws for women.  I find it interesting that, from looking at my family over this past century, one can see that even though there were laws in place for women, society prevented them from being socially acceptable for in higher education.  What would Mill think of a society that has continually regarded women so poorly? I personally think Mill would just give women all the more credit that has been taken from women… Glass ceiling… Mill would shatter it!

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John Stuart Mill’s arguments for defense of the rights of women could also be used to defend homosexuals against the policy which currently bars them from serving openly in the military.  Mill says “the generality of a practice is in some cases a strong presumption that it is, or at all events once was, conducive to laudable ends” (653).  It was assumed before the passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that homosexuals in the military would have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand if they were distracted by members of the same sex who they would be serving with.  Unfortunately, as we have seen in cases such as the Air Force Academy sexual assault cases earlier this decade (New York Times Survey), it has been shown that members of the same sex also have trouble controlling themselves.  The logic behind this measure is also flawed because heterosexuals in the military are allowed to openly discuss their personal relationships amongst themselves, but homosexuals are required to withhold their personal information.  Simply sharing personal information shouldn’t conflict with a gay soldier’s duties any more than a straight soldier’s.
Mill also mentions “that people of the last two or three generations have lost all practical sense of the primitive condition of humanity; and only the few who have studied history accurately . . . are able to form any mental picture of what society then was” (655).  This is also applicable to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, and it undermines the historic fact of homosexuality in the Greek military.  Although these relationships were regulated by societal standards, homosexuality wasn’t regarded as an abomination, but rather a practical solution to the problem of not having women serving alongside the men.  People who shun gays in the military are forgetting the history behind homosexual relationships in the military.
When discussing the idea that women were naturally incapable of doing certain jobs, Mill dismissing this thought, saying “even if it be well grounded in a majority of cases, which it is very likely not to be, there will be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold:  and in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using their faculties for their own benefit and for that of others” (661).  The same is true of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which assumes, based on few or no examples, that homosexuals will not be able to control their urges in the line of duty.  It is offensive that this law makes such an unfounded generalization about a group of people.  It is also unfair that these men and women, who are wiling to sacrifice everything for the good of their nation, are being turned away for something that has nothing to do with their job performance.  Mill asks “Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high duties, that society can afford to reject the service of any competent person?” (678).  Fifty-seven Arabic linguists have been fired because their sexual orientation has been discovered (Huffington Post Blog).  In this time of war, in which we have a shortage of military members who are able to translate Arabic, it is ridiculous that we are turning them away.  Doing this is a disservice to these brave Americans, and our nation which is in desperate need of their services.
Although The Subjection of Women doesn’t let on to how Mill would have felt about this 20th century policy, the principles he used seem to give a clear argument for overturning it.
Mill, John Stuart.  “The Subjection of Women”.  Modern Political Thought.  ed.  David Wootton.
Hackett Publishing Company:  Indianapolis, 2008.

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Mill’s ideas on freedom seem simple enough; as long as it’s not a nuisance or interfering with others’ lives, you are free to do as you please.  Others can criticize you for what they see as wrong doings, but they have no right to actually stop you (Mill, 600-620).  It simple terms, if its not directly bothering you, mind your own business and everyone gets along.  But the question is, can Mill’s philosophy actually work, when put into practice?   A prime example to look at is drugs and drug use.

Though the actual act of doing drugs only harms you, it remains illegal to even possess most drugs.  Mill would undoubtedly argue that though drugs may not be positive, used responsibly they do not harm others substantially (Mill, 600-620).  Opponents argue that drugs, even when used “safely”, affect those around you; from emotional pain to your family, to slacking on your responsibilities.  But that argument can be applied to many things.  Televisions for instance: much of today’s youth spends hours in front of the TV, possibly wasting their potential.  Should we then outlaw televisions?  Mill obviously would not.

But to think that drug use would remain totally responsible, is naïve.  Just take a look at alcohol; we have drunk driving, and alcoholics.  Mill would clearly classify these situations and acts as nuisances to those around us  (Mill, 600).  But does outlawing it even prevent it?  I would argue quite the opposite.  As we saw in the time of prohibition, making alcohol illegal only created a black market for it.  Instead of regulation, the supply of alcohol was run by gun-toting gangs.  Now does any of this sound familiar?  It is the exact same situation we currently have with drugs.  By implementing Mill’s idea of individual responsibility and freedom, the same principle applied to alcohol with the repeal of the prohibition, drugs could be regulated.  Violence would decrease, and money through business and taxation would increase.  Of course issues of drug addicts and impaired driving would be present.  But those problems persist now, even with the outlawing of drugs.  Just as some consider heavy drinking to be immoral, there will always be those who do not condone drug use either.  But we are a world of unique individuals, and to apply the same morality to everyone is overbearing, especially if the actions of said “immorality” does not affect those around them.

The United States of America has an incarceration rate of 7 times the global average  (National Council for Crime and Delinquency).  And I would argue this is due to the immense about of drug related “crime”.  Many of these crimes are victimless, and as Mill states, victimless crimes, should not be crimes at all.  So would an application of Mill’s ideas of freedom, actually work in modern day?  I would certainly think so, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion…assuming it isn’t a nuisance.

Works Referenced

“Fact Sheet.” National Council for Crime and Delinquency . N.p., Nov. 2006. Web.
22 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/

Mill, J.S. “On Liberty.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Ed. David
Wooton. 2nd Edition ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. 599-620. Print.

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John Stuart Mill spent much of “The Subjection of Women” discussing the issue of marriage and its flaws. Throughout his work he is well versed and seems to consider himself an informed and knowledgeable writer on this topic. In present times, many of the issues Mill raises against marriage have already been fixed. Women are taking less subordinate and even more dominant roles in partnerships, women have the right to file for divorce, and also have legal rights to their children. What would Mill’s thoughts be on a more modernized version of this topic, gay marriage? Mill has many reasons for opposing the institution of marriage and if these causes for opposition are obliterated, it is likely that Mill will support marriage. I argue that Mill would support gay marriage as it rids of many of his causes for opposing marriage.


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Slave to Sports

In The Subjection of Women, Mill discusses the similarity between the rights of women and slaves.  Slaves had more rights than women, but women had a higher social status than slaves.  This is similar to the rights of athletes in school sports across genders.  Student athletes are thought to have more rights than the average student, but they are actually slaves to their coaches and sports.  For example, student athletes are subjected to practice for long hours whenever their coaches tell them and are forced to obey all commands.

            When Mill talks about the lives of women and their rights, it is obvious they are being forced into a type of slavery through marriage, since “marrying is giving themselves a master, and a master too of all their earthly possessions… but no amount of ill usage… free[s] a wife of her tormentor.” A woman must be devoted to her husband and all his needs, but he can do away with her whenever he chooses, just like a slave.

            Like Mill thinks women are slaves to their husband in marriage, athletes are slaves to their sports and coaches.   When children join sports at a young age, they play for mere recreational reasons.  They become slaves to the sport over time as they continue through the years when the original fun of the sport turns into forced dedication.  Once in high school, the best players on each sports team develop a relationship with their coach to help them grow, with the hope of playing college sports.  These elite athletes attend extra “non-mandatory” practices that the other players do not and join multiple travel teams to create a type of sports resume for colleges to look at. 

Before players realize, they become a slave to their coach and their sport.  The coaches treat the players as their own and work to send them to play on a college team.  The bigger the schools “their players” attend, the better the coach looks.  Moving to a college team is like the equivalent of trading slave owners.  The high school coach no longer owns them, but the players are under an even harsher rule with the college coach.

When playing a college sport, the athletes must live and eat with their teammates, practice multiple times a day, and leave for days at a time to travel to play other teams.  Due to their hectic schedules, athletes have to schedule their classes around practice and put everything about the team first.  This is not an option; their coaches, qua masters, enforce it, even missing practice for a class is not allowed.

While this type of control is harsh, athletes do receive certain benefits like scholarships and equipment.  However, there is a difference across sports for different genders.  In almost all sports, men’s sports receive more press and money than women’s sports.  All teams have coaches that make them work hard and focus on sports before anything else, but men receive eventual payoffs that women do not.  This can be seen at the college level, but not as easily as the difference is seen in professional sports. Men are trained from a young age with the possibility to play professionally.  Contrastingly, women are being trained with the end of their career in sight.  Young women are not told to hope and dream to be a professional athlete because the odds of them making it are slim to none and the overall achievement is not worth it.   After men stop playing their sport, they have the opportunity to become a coach, but like before, only a few women have this chance. Also, due to biological factors, the risk of injury among women is higher, though their compensation does not reflect this fact.  Men are slaves to their sport and they are reimbursed for their time and effort, but women are slaves to their sport, but get repaid with injury and never being able to play again.

Between opportunity for future jobs, injury, and coaches that act as slave owners, being an athlete is not as glorified as it seems.  From a young age, their sport and the constant pressure to do better overtake the schedule and free time of athletes.  However, the positive aspects of sport almost never outweigh the negative aspects, especially in women’s sports.

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Check out this video of stand-up with Bill Burr (pardon the language).

It’s a terrific comedic take on nearly the exact subject we have debated in the past week. Not declaring a position on one side or the other, but you gotta respect that take on it. In situations such as that, why shouldn’t men receive that extra dollar for the same job? And as mentioned before, sometimes men are just better qualified and suited for a job. But at times, so are women. It all depends on the situation really.

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“Those nations once have had originality; they did not start out of the ground populous, lettered, and versed in many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this, and were then the greatest and most powerful nations of the world.”

–John Stuart Mill

Having grown up in the Metro Detroit area all my life, the downfall of the “Big Three”—Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors—approximately one year ago was a huge blow. Not only did I have family involved in those companies, but I had numerous friends and neighbors affected by their downfall as well. This country, but especially this area, was taught a lesson—an incredibly painful and heartbreaking one— you get what you deserve.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) was created in 1935 in an effort to defend auto workers’ rights (“UAW History”). Its definition of “workers’ rights” has expanded into overcompensation for tedious jobs virtually any person could undertake. According to Mark J. Perry, in 2006, the average “Big Three” auto worker was making somewhere between $141,020 and $151,720 per year! The average auto worker, also, had merely a high school degree. These workers—doing repetitive jobs, like working a forklift or working on an assembly line—were making more than professors, business owners, even some doctors. With the economic downturn, people began to realize it was not the 1950’s anymore. It would not suffice to simply attend high school and get a diploma when, as Mill said, “There is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical.” These people would become production workers for 40 years, and continue to reap massive benefits 30 years after retirement. It allowed for laziness in the workplace and required very little education when “…mental and moral [power]… are improved only by being used” (Mill).

Mill once said: “A people, it appears, may be progressive for a certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop? When it ceases to possess individuality.” He would have been appalled at the way society acted. The genius of the car companies was not in the past 30 or even 60 years. It was with the invention of the automobile and the birth of the car companies in the early 20th century. That was when real innovation took place. That was where genius was able “…to unfold itself freely both in thought and in practice” (Mill). Most present-day auto workers are, frankly, undereducated and overpaid. It is a job with no outlet for expression or room for creativity.

Mill was a firm believer in individuality and the belief that “Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom”. He would have encouraged higher education. The more education a person has, the more opportunities he has for advancement. Needless to say, the recession has taught the United States a lesson. If it wants to compete internationally, it will need better educated workers. The time has come for people to attend college, at least, and perhaps go on to attend graduate school. The United States can no longer be an industrial nation, focused solely on cars. Its shift must focus—to one of scientific advancement. To compete globally and maintain its global standing, it must have the most educated and skilled workers in the world.

Works Cited

Mill, John S. “On Liberty: Chapter III: Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being.” Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Company, Inc., 2008. 621-28. Print.

Perry, Mark J. “Transformational UAW Deal? Accept Professors’ Pay.” Web blog post. Carpe Diem. 11 July 2007. Web. 2 Dec. 2009. <http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2007/07/uaw-pricing-themselves-out-of-market.html&gt;.

“UAW History – Seventy Years of Solidarity.” Welcome to the UAW. Web. 04 Dec. 2009. <http://www.uaw.org/history/uaw70years.html&gt;.

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Max Bloom
Section 12

A major issue that must be considered when we think about the way we want the people who we choose to represent us to behave is whether they should act as trustees or as delegates.  These two styles of representation are radically different, and the choice of one or the other could mean radically different legislative outcomes for a representative’s constituents.  First off, let’s define both terms; a delegate is a representative who listens to his constituents, records their views and then regurgitates their opinions in whatever legislative body he is a part of.  In contrast, a trustee listens to his constituents’ ideas, takes them into consideration and then formulates an opinion of his own and acts upon that opinion.  Both styles have merit, but John Mill’s views on liberty provide a strong and compelling argument for trusteeship.
These diametrically opposed methods of representation have the capacity to drastically impact the way people are represented in their legislatures and can put the US style of government anywhere on the spectrum from true democracy to oligarchy.  It is debatable which style is preferable, but judging by his views on individual opinions, John Stuart Mill clearly prefers a trustee to a delegate.  Mill writes, “A person whose desires and impulses are his own…is said to have a character.  One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character” (Mill, pg. 622).  Mill denigrates the delegate by implying that he has about as much character as a steam engine and is in fact just as much of a human being as a steam engine.  In chapter 12 of his writings on representative government, Mill makes a more specific argument.  Talking about the general populace he says, “they cannot be expected to postpone their particular opinions, unless in order that they may be served by a person of superior knowledge to their own.”  This showcases Mill’s view that if a representative is more knowledgeable than his constituents, he has the right and the responsibility to use his own judgment and opinions when representing the voters.
Despite Mill’s insistence, there are in fact reasonable arguments for both delegates and trustees.  A delegate is better able to accurately represent his constituency and convey their wishes to the legislative body.  Mill, however, might argue that the constituents elected this particular representative because they thought he was smarter and better informed than they were, and by merely regurgitating their uninformed opinions he is actually doing them a disservice.  On the other hand, while a trustee is better informed than his constituents, he is willing to ignore peoples’ opinions in order to do what he thinks is best for his district and the country as a whole.  This can be a positive, but what if, for example, the trustee is an old white man who represents a primarily Hispanic community?  Ideally it wouldn’t matter, but in reality an old white man might have very different views about, say, immigration or abortion, than a young Hispanic woman.  If the Hispanic woman entrusts her representative to make her decisions for her and expects him to simply transmit her wishes to the legislature and he acts as a trustee and makes his own decisions, she will be extremely angry if he votes against her wishes.  Even if his votes are for the good of the country or the district, she will be frustrated that the representative she voted for has not adhered to her wishes and will be unlikely to vote for him in the next election.
John Mill is a vehement defender of the trustee style of representation, and it appears that this style is generally advantageous to the legislature as a whole, but if you are a representative, it might not help you get reelected.

Note: Excerpt from Mill’s Representative Government taken from <http://www.constitution.org/jsm/rep_gov.htm&gt;

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“I’m a woman and a Jew and so I know about discrimination, said Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan.” [1] Krueger was one of 24 New York State legislators that voted yesterday in favor of a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in New York had it not been defeated in a 38-24 vote. Since the year 2003, seven of the 50 states have passed laws that allow same-sex couples the right to wed; however, two of those states, California and Maine, have passed referendums that have taken this right away.

 I would like to draw on some of J.S. Mill’s theories in The Subjection of Women and relate them to the issue of same-sex marriage and its place in modern-day society. Marriage has long been a traditional coupling of two individuals founded in religion and social culture. The way society perceives marriage differs greatly among various cultures. In some cultures it is common for one man to have multiple wives. In others, it is acceptable (and even customary) for men to beat their wives. In western society, marriage has evolved to become something viewed as a symbol of love and eternal commitment between two individuals. The part that sucks is that these two individuals must be a man and a woman. Why, because it’s custom. As the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, Richard E. Barnes, said, “it has become clear that Americans continue to understand marriage the way it has always been understood, and New York is not different in that regard. This is a victory for the basic building block of our society.” [1] I think Mr. Mill and I would agree that Richard E. Barnes is in many regards….wrong.

 The argument that because something has always been one way it must stay that way is completely unsound and ignorant. Mill presents an argument of social epistemology where he states that customs can be justified if you can offer another reason as to why something has become a custom. Just saying that A is B simply because A has always been B is not logical. How do we know A has always been B? Furthermore, how do we even know that A is B? The fact is, things change over time. Would you agree that slavery is wrong? Would you agree that women should have the right to vote? These may be things you can answer with ease, but not too long ago, these things were as contentious a topic as same-sex marriage is today. As Mill states, “little do people remember or consider how institutions and customs which never had any ground but the law of force, last on into ages and states of general opinion which never would have permitted their first establishment.” [2, 656]

 Mill argues that contingent facts of birth such as physical differences do not justify certain social and political advantages. His argument is largely focused on addressing the issue of women and the justification of their insubordinate position in society by their physical distinction from men. I would like to borrow his argument and apply it to same-sex marriage, which is something very near and dear to my heart. First off, many people do not agree, but being gay is a contingent fact of birth. By definition, contingent facts of birth are aspects of a person that aren’t contingent on anything the person could have done. I am gay and I love who I am, but I did not choose to be gay. I did not wake up one morning and decide that I was going to start liking guys. Due to the lack of scientific evidence, many people question how homosexuals know they are gay for purely genetic reasons. I typically respond by saying that humans don’t start having sexual feelings until around a certain age, usually between 8 and 14 when puberty starts. Before this stage, homosexuality may be evident in other ways, but it is not something that the person is aware of yet. Ask any 5-year-old, I guarantee they will tell you both boys and girls are gross. I can remember starting to become attracted to guys around the third grade, about the same time my guy friends started to become attracted to girls. I had trouble understanding the feelings for a while until sometime in middle school where I personally accepted and understood the fact that I was gay. I didn’t officially “come out” to friends and family until my senior year of high school when my maturity level was high enough to tolerate the social stigma that surrounded my sexual identity. That aside, the point I am trying to make is that things that are uncontrollable by birth such as gender and sexual orientation should not determine social and cultural attributes, and above all, should not be politically salient.

 Natural differences should not justify any form of social hierarchy or political inequality. Similar to how claiming that women are not as capable as men when it comes to sports has been shown false, it is also false that men cannot intimately love another man. Just as Mill makes the claim against the general principle of social and economical science by saying, “But if the principle is true, we ought to act as if we believed it, and not ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy, any more than to be born black instead of white, or a commoner instead of a nobleman, shall decide the person’s position through all life-shall interdict people from all the more elevated social positions, and from all, except a few, respectable occupations,” [2, 661] I am making a claim against the principle that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry each other simply because they are physically different.

 Just as the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement took a while to take hold, the gay rights movement will not resolve itself overnight. Society does not accept change with much grace, but it is a historical fact that change eventually does occur. I don’t want to make the claim that change is inevitable because this in itself is not a good argument. I would instead like to make the claim that change is necessary. Most people will agree that the world today is better than the world 300 years ago. Historical records date homosexuality back to the time of the ancient Greeks. It is a real part of our society, and it is becoming more and more open in everyday life. Marriage equality may seem like a futile thing to some people. Some argue that homosexuals are allowed domestic partner benefits and shouldn’t destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Some people, although crazy, also argue that same-sex marriage has the potential to be a slippery slope that could lead to people wanting to marry their pets. My response to both of these arguments is based on the idea that marriage involves the societal recognition of mutual love between two human beings. It’s not only about the shared health insurance, and it is not only between a woman and a man, and certainly not between a man and a beast. As a gay male I want to be able to marry my future boyfriend. I want the same rights as my parents and grandparents. I want the right to love, and I know with time I will. And not because it’s inevitable, but because it’s just.


  1. Peters, Jeremy W. New York State Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill. 2 Dec 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/nyregion/03marriage.html?_r=1&hp
  2. Mill, J.S. The Subjection of Women. From Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, edited by David Wooten. 652-705.

 If you are interested in learning more about LGBT rights visit, www.hrc.org.

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