John Stuart Mill opens his essay by discussing the historical "struggle between authority and liberty," [8] describing the tyranny of government, which, in his view, needs to be controlled by the liberty of the citizens. He divides this control of authority into two mechanisms: necessary rights belonging to citizens, and the "establishment of constitutional checks by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort, supposed to represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more important acts of the governing power.

Mill admits that this new form of society seemed immune to tyranny because "there was no fear of tyrannizing over self. First, even in democracy, the rulers were not always the same sort of people as the ruled. In Mill's view, tyranny of the majority is worse than tyranny of government because it is not limited to a political function. Where one can be protected from a tyrant, it is much harder to be protected "against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling.

Mill's proof goes as follows: the majority opinion may not be the correct opinion.

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The only justification for a person's preference for a particular moral belief is that it is that person's preference. On a particular issue, people will align themselves either for or against that issue; the side of greatest volume will prevail, but is not necessarily correct.

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign. Mill clarifies that this standard is solely based on utility.


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For example, according to Mill, children and "barbarian" nations are benefited by limited freedom. Mill concludes the Introduction by discussing what he claimed were the three basic liberties in order of importance: [18]. While Mill admits that these freedoms could—in certain situations—be pushed aside, he claims that in contemporary and civilised societies there is no justification for their removal.

In the second chapter, J. Mill attempts to prove his claim from the first chapter that opinions ought never to be suppressed. Mill spends a large portion of the chapter discussing implications of and objections to the policy of never suppressing opinions.

Therefore, Mill concludes that suppression of opinion based on belief in infallible doctrine is dangerous. In the third chapter, J. Mill points out the inherent value of individuality since individuality is ex vi termini i. He states that he fears that Western civilization approaches this well-intentioned conformity to praiseworthy maxims characterized by the Chinese civilization. Rather, the person behind the action and the action together are valuable. In the fourth chapter, J. Mill explains a system in which a person can discern what aspects of life should be governed by the individual and which by society.

In such a situation, "society has jurisdiction over [the person's conduct]. Rather, he argues that this liberal system will bring people to the good more effectively than physical or emotional coercion. Governments, he claims, should only punish a person for neglecting to fulfill a duty to others or causing harm to others , not the vice that brought about the neglect.

Mill spends the rest of the chapter responding to objections to his maxim. He notes the objection that he contradicts himself in granting societal interference with youth because they are irrational but denying societal interference with certain adults though they act irrationally. Where some may object that there is justification for certain religious prohibitions in a society dominated by that religion, he argues that members of the majority ought make rules that they would accept should they have been the minority.

For example, a Muslim state could feasibly prohibit pork. However, Mill still prefers a policy of society minding its own business. This last chapter applies the principles laid out in the previous sections.

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He begins by summarising these principles:. Mill first applies these principles to the economy. He concludes that free markets are preferable to those controlled by governments. While it may seem, because "trade is a social act," that the government ought intervene in the economy, Mill argues that economies function best when left to their own devices. Next Mill investigates in what ways a person may try to prevent harm.

On Liberty

Second, he states that agents must consider whether that which can cause injury can cause injury exclusively. Poison can cause harm. However, he points out that poison can also be used for good. Therefore, selling poison is permissible. He considers the right course of action when an agent sees a person about to cross a condemned bridge without being aware of the risk.

The best nonfiction books: No 61 – On Liberty by John Stuart Mill () | Books | The Guardian

Mill states that because the agent presumably has interest in not crossing a dangerous bridge i. He qualifies the assertion stating that, if the means are available, it is better to warn the unaware person. With regard to taxing to deter agents from buying dangerous products, he makes a distinction.

He states that to tax solely to deter purchases is impermissible because prohibiting personal actions is impermissible and "[e]very increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price. Mill expands upon his principle of punishing the consequences rather than the personal action. He argues that a person who is empirically prone to act violently i. He further stipulates that repeat offenders should be punished more than first time offenders. On the subject of fornication and gambling, Mill has no conclusive answer, stating, "[t]here are arguments on both sides.

Mill continues by addressing the question of social interference in suicide. He states that the purpose of liberty is to allow a person to pursue their interest. Therefore, when a person intends to terminate their ability to have interests it is permissible for society to step in. In other words, a person does not have the freedom to surrender their freedom. Mill believes that government run education is an evil because it would destroy diversity of opinion for all people to be taught the curriculum developed by a few.

He states that they should enforce mandatory education through minor fines and annual standardised testing that tested only uncontroversial fact.

Kant and Locke. On Liberty was enormously popular in the years following its publication. In more recent times, although On Liberty garnered adverse criticism, it has been largely received as an important classic of political thought for its ideas and accessibly lucid style.

Denise Evans and Mary L. Onorato summarise the modern reception of On Liberty , stating: "[c]ritics regard his essay On Liberty as a seminal work in the development of British liberalism. Enhanced by his powerful, lucid, and accessible prose style, Mill's writings on government, economics, and logic suggest a model for society that remains compelling and relevant.


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  5. Mill makes it clear throughout On Liberty that he "regard[s] utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions", a standard he inherited from his father, a follower of Jeremy Bentham. Mill claims that all of his principles on liberty appeal to the ultimate authority of utilitarianism, according to Nigel Warburton , much of the essay can seem divorced from his supposed final court of appeals. Mill seems to idealize liberty and rights at the cost of utility. For instance, Mill writes: [73].

    This claim seems to go against the principle of utilitarianism, that it is permissible that one should be harmed so that the majority could benefit. Warburton argues that Mill is too optimistic about the outcome of free speech. Sign in Create an account.