Mill and Marx Research Paper

What Would Mill and Marx Do?


The question of liberty of an individual and society was one of the central questions that disturbed minds of different philosophers living in different epochs. In fact, the problem of the liberation of an individual and society from the limits of their subjective consciousness and perception of the surrounding reality could be traced in works of ancient philosophers, such as Plato. In this respect, it is possible to refer to his famous allegory of the cave, in which the philosopher depicts prisoners that are able to perceive only shadows on the wall and echoes, which they treat as actually existing phenomena, i.e. they perceive it as reality. In actuality, they are just reflection of the objectively existing reality and it is puppeteers who actually create this reality and control prisoners and their perception. At the same time, Plato admits the possibility of the liberation of a prisoner, who manages to turn around and see the objective reality and not the one that is reflected on the wall of the cave. However, the philosopher argues that, on discovering the puppeteers and the reality behind the prisoners, the freed prisoner will not be able to convince the rest of his former co-inmates in the existence of another objective and not illusory reality they see on the wall. In such a way, Plato raises a serious dilemma which seems to be irresolvable: whatever the freed prisoner do he would never convince society, i.e. other prisoners, in his righteousness, instead he would be perceived as an insane.

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In fact, this dilemma as well as Plato’s allegory of the cave became a serious challenge to many thinkers of later epochs. In this respect, it is possible to name Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. They actually attempted to solve the similar problem of the liberation of each individual and society at large. However, they viewed the ways of the achievement of such a freedom or Plato’s prisoners in a different way. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that both Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill insisted on the necessity of the liberation of people. Also both philosophers were consistently influenced by the current socio-economic trends, which enlarged the gap between rich and poor and which put people in absolutely different social positions. In fact, a part of society was in a privileged position, i.e. puppeteers, while the rest was serving to the interests of the ruling elite, i.e. prisoners. It would be logical to presuppose that they would suggest different plan of actions for the freed prisoners. Taking into consideration the significance of both philosophers and their substantial impact on the development of the contemporary philosophy, it is necessary to analyze both perspectives on the actions of the freed prisoner.

Karl Marx’s perspective on the prisoner returning to the cave

In order to understand and forecast actions and behavior of the freed prisoner that returns to the cave to free his former co-inmates, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon basic theoretical assumptions developed by Karl Marx and his views on an individual and development of society. In this regard, it should be pointed out that Karl Marx stood on the materialistic ground and insisted on the fact that the surrounding reality shapes the consciousness of people. Applying this idea to the allegory of cave, it is possible to estimate that enchained prisoners sitting and watching at the wall will more likely perceive shadows on the wall and echo reflected from the wall of the cave as actual reality that does exist objectively.

At the same time, it is also worth mentioning the fact that Karl Marx argued that the structure of human society is based on the class division and strict hierarchy. In fact, according to Karl Marx, the entire society is strictly divided into classes, which occupy different positions in the social hierarchy. Upper classes occupy the dominant position in the society and appropriate the major part of the wealth produced by the society. Moreover, as a rule, the upper classes, which may be viewed as Plato’s puppeteers, are just exploiting the working class, occupying the lower position in the social hierarchy. In such a way, Karl Marx develops the idea of the antagonism of classes. This is why he insists that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx, 15).

Consequently, the philosopher views the social development as the severe class struggle, where there are, strictly speaking, the class of exploiter and the class of oppressed, the class of exploited. Naturally, such a contrasting situation could not fail to result in the conflict between the two classes. In this regard, views of Karl Marx on capitalism, which emergence he observed during his lifetime, are particularly significant for the understanding of the philosopher’s perspective on the prisoner returning to the cave to free other prisoners. It should be pointed out that Karl Marx was very skeptical about capitalism and its future and he insisted on the inevitable downfall of capitalism: “The development of Modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet its very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of proletariat are equally inevitable.” (Marx, 79).

In such a way, Karl Marx predicts the downfall of capitalism. At the same time, it is the oppressed and most deprived class, the proletariat, that will rebel and destroy the foundation of the existing society. As a result, he suggests his major postulate concerning the further development of capitalism and its end. He suggests the idea of social revolution, which should liberate all oppressed people and destroy the class of oppressors. This idea is particularly significant for the understanding of Karl Marx’s perspective on the actions of the prisoner returning to the cave.

On applying Karl Marx theory and ideas to the allegory of the cave, it is important to underline that enchained prisoners and puppeteers should be viewed as two antagonistic classes. On the one hand, there are the elite, the ruling class, puppeteers, who control the life and ideology of enchained prisoners. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the idea of Karl Marx that the ideology of the ruling classes becomes the ideology of the entire society. According to Karl Marx, the ruling classes totally control the culture ideas that are spread within the society. Moreover, it is the ruling classes that actually establish the set of values of a particular society and define not only its socio-economic but also its cultural and spiritual development.

As a result, it is possible to view the position of prisoners as the oppressed class, while the prisoner that manages to turn around and find out the truth, the objectively existing reality, may be viewed as a representative of the proletariat. This freed prisoner, being in a desperate position, rebels against the established norms and crashes the chain that kept him ignorant about his truth position. Consequently, the liberation of the prisoner may be viewed as a revolt, but it is not the social revolution yet. Instead, the liberation of the prisoner is rather the awakening of his consciousness. To put it more precisely, on turning around, the prisoner does not only learn the truth, but he makes much more important discovery, he understands the real situation and his actual position. In such a way, he realizes that he is a puppet in hands of puppeteers and all his life and work served to interests of the puppeteers, while he, himself, was deprived of any personal freedom. As a result, the prisoner’s consciousness changes under the impact of the change of the surrounding reality. On discovering his oppressed position, the prisoner naturally wants to free himself from the chains and bounds imposed on him by the puppeteers.

However, being alone, the prisoner cannot change the existing social order established and controlled by the puppeteers. This is why he needs to return to the cave and free other prisoners. At the same time, to fulfill this task he needs to organize the opposition of the prisoners to the puppeteers, which can eventually result in the social revolution. In such a way, the freed prisoner plays the role of the leader of the popular or liberation movement. In fact, it is possible to compare this prisoner to Karl Marx’s concept of a philosopher, namely he insisted that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways – the point however is to change it” (Mrx, 112).

Taking into consideration this postulate, it is possible to presuppose that the prisoner, according to Marx’s ideas, should popularize his ideas among the rest of the prisoners. Basically, the prisoners remain unconscious of their real position and still live in the illusory world created and managed by the puppeteers. In this respect, it should be said that the major goal the prisoner should meet is the revealing the reality that may need considerable efforts from the part of the freed prisoner, who has returned to the prison. This means that he needs to spread the information he learned about the real world and he should primarily find the most oppressed prisoners, whose position is the most desperate. In other words, the freed prisoner should find the marginalized group, which Karl Marx defines as proletariat, since it is the proletariat that will carry out the social revolution, which, apparently, is the ultimate goal of the freed prisoner’s return.

On spreading his ideas and finding the support of the most deprived and, therefore, most daring prisoners, the freed prisoner may head the social protest that will outgrow into the social revolution targeting at the fall of the puppeteers’ regime. It should be pointed out that any actions of the freed prisoner would inevitably lead to or target at a kind of revolt. Obviously, even to get support of the most deprived prisoners, who able to carry out the revolution, he should win their consciousness, make them believe that what they cannot see behind them and what he tells them about is true and it does exist. Only on such a strong ideological basis he can liberate their consciousness and only after the liberation of consciousness. He, as the leader and inspirer of the social revolution, can head the rebellion of enchained prisoners against the puppeteers. As for the outcome of this revolution, it should be said that it will be quite predictable, since, according to Karl Marx, the ruling regime will end in the total destruction. In other words, the class of puppeteers will be eliminated by the oppressed class of prisoners in the result of their revolution. Ideally, this revolution should lead to the creation of the totally new society, free of the class division and social hierarchy where all people will be equal and free.

In such a way, the return of the freed prisoner into the cave may be viewed as the work of a philosopher, who targets at the change of the world and the existing social order through the organization of the social revolution leading the masses of prisoners against the exploiting class of the puppeteers.

John Stuart Mill’s perspective on the prisoner returning to the cave

Speaking about John Stuart Mill’s possible view on the freed prisoner’s return to the cave and his actions, it should be said that the philosopher will more likely insist on an attempt of the liberation of other prisoners, though this effort or, at least, its success may be doubtful, in the context of John Stuart Mill’s philosophical views. In fact, in order to reveal all possible nuances of the return of the freed prisoner to the cave, it is necessary to take into consideration basic ideas developed by John Stuart Mill.

First of all, it should be said that John Stuart Mill stood on the liberationist ground and in actuality he was one of the founders of the classical liberalism. The philosopher laid emphasis on the fact that liberty is the major value of any individual and the personal liberty should be highly appreciated as one of the major rights of an individual. In such a context, the position of enchained prisoners should be unbearable for John Stuart Mill since they were deprived of freedom.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that, even though John Stuart Mill developed the concept of liberty which emphasized the freedom of an individual, this freedom was not unlimited. Instead, he indicates to the necessity of the implementation of the harm principle, which is of a paramount importance for the understanding of his views on the allegory of the cave and the freed prisoner’s return. Basically, the harm principle holds that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions do not harm others. In such a way, the personal freedom of an individual ends when it can be harmful for other people. This is why, while defining the right and scale of freedom, it is necessary, according to John Stuart Mill, to take into consideration the interests of other people and the entire society. In his work “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill states that “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection” and further he continues “the only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to the society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.” (Mill, 147). Consequently, it should be pointed out that the individual liberty is limited by interests of others, while in regard to himself an individual is absolutely free.

At the same time, John Stuart Mill pays a lot of attention to the problem of utilitarianism. In fact, he views liberty as the major utility an individual can get in his life. It is worth mentioning the fact that the freedom of an individual, being limited by interests of others, still should not be limited by some imposed constraints or biases, but still freedom should be based on moral principles. At this point, he insisted on the necessity of the absolute freedom and he argued that all means are possible to use to achieve this freedom, including war. For instance, he argues that the war “in good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is the ugly thing but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse.” (Mill, 294). This means that he admitted the use of violence, i.e. the possibility of war so long as it has moral and patriotic goals.

On applying his views to the allegory of cave and the freed prisoner, it is possible to estimate that the philosopher would support the efforts of the freed prisoner to return and free other prisoners. The reason for such actions is quite obvious: the position of enchained prisoners is really terrible since they are enslaved, while John Stuart Mill was a convinced opponent of any kind of slavery. He emphasized the necessity of the provision of all individuals with freedom. This is why the attempt of the freed prisoner to free others is highly moral and noble, to the extent that the freed prisoner can even have the moral right to start the war targeting at the liberation of the prisoners.

It should be said that the ultimate goal really justifies the means to use, but the problem is that the enchained prisoners are unconscious of their real position. They sincerely believe that they are free in their actions and that the reality they see on the wall of the cave is the only reality that exists in the world. At this point, John Stuart Mill’s idea of individual liberty comes into conflict with his utilitarian ideas and the harm principle. On the one hand, the prisoner should free other prisoners because they are actually imprisoned, i.e. deprived of their freedom, the basic and natural right of any individual. On the other hand, if the freed prisoner returns to the cave and attempts to free all the prisoners he will have to tell the truth about the real position of slaves and the established order. Obviously, such a discovery can undermine the foundation of the society and prisoners, if they launch the war against the puppeteers, will destroy the society and social order in which they live pretty well since they are unconscious of the fact of their oppression and the privileged position of the puppeteers. Consequently, the attempt of the freed prisoner to free others will be harmful for them and for the entire society since this attempt will be destructing.

As a result, the logical outcome of the return of the freed prisoner may be just the self-estimation of his own freedom, but not other prisoners. In other words, he can free only himself but not others. Obviously, if interests of others, in the case of cave, interests of puppeteers, are affected than the freed prison, according to Mill, does not have the right to free other prisoners.


Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that both Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill could initially insist on the necessity of the liberation of all prisoners after the return of the freed prison. However, the position of Karl Marx is more consistent because the ultimate goal of the return of the prisoner should be the social revolution which would destroy the ruling class of the puppeteers, while John Stuart Mill’s position implies the necessity of the personal freedom, but he attempts to avoid social conflicts, which may harm interests of other people that makes the return of the prisoner should not be harmful for the society and, therefore, any liberation is possible only when prisoners make their own choice and do not start any kind of rebellion.


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