The John Stuart Mill Cup has a dual purpose: to promote interest in philosophy among secondary school students and to model and promote civil discourse on issues of public concern. It is founded on three fundamental tenets: (1) In a multicultural democracy disagreement about important moral issues is inevitable. (2) The members of the public should not shy away from expressing, in the public forum, their convictions on these issues. (3) As a society we could make quicker progress toward reaching mutually acceptable resolutions of these disagreements, without creating resentment and hostility as a side effect, if more entrants in the public debate made use of the philosophers’ toolkit–the attention to logic and fallacy avoidance, the back-and-forth cycle of argument-counterargument-revision, the principle of interpreting one’s interlocutor’s position as charitably as possible, etc. It isn’t a debating tournament and is designed to reward not the ability to win an argument but rather the ability to thoughtfully advance debates on ethical issues of public concern.
The Cup is named for John Stuart Mill, a 19th-century British philosopher, economist, public intellectual, and parliamentarian. Mill was a flawed man. A life-long employee of the British East India Company, Mill was a racist and a persistent supporter of colonialism. The Cup, however, honours what was good in Mill, and is named for him in recognition of his role in promoting this vision of open and vibrant public discourse. He was anti-slavery, and was a radical, for his time, on issues of womens’ rights and democracy. His 1859 work, On Liberty, has stood the test of time as one of the most stirring calls for robust protection of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, ever produced. Finally, he was Rector of the University of St. Andrews from 1865-1868.
The Cup is modelled after the National High School Ethics Bowl. We are thankful for NHSEB’s inspiration and for its help in getting the JS Mill Cup off the ground, and we note that much of the text found on this website is copied from NHSEB’s website, with gratefully acknowledged permission.