John Stuart Mill Research Paper

Submitted By Adam-Dear
Words: 2655
Pages: 11

Lecture Outline: John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

1. brief, why do we need limits on government’s ability to act?
2. Freedom of action: When can society legitimately interfere?
3. Liberty of Thought & Discussion: how much? Reasons? (3-1/2 reasons)
4. Individuality


Why study Mill? What does he add to Classical Liberalism? utilitarian value of liberty for individual, society; Why is individual liberty important? what is the social value of individual or eccentric opinions and actions, even when opinions are vile?

Mill starts from a position of complete individual freedom; one must justify any limits;

Where does society have authority over individual? other-regarding acts;

Where does society have no authority over the individual? self-regarding acts; inward domain of consciousness; conscience, thought, speech; tastes and pursuits; assembly; “true freedom” is to pursue our own good in our own way

Utilitarianism: actions are right insofar as they promote “happiness” and reduce “pain;” so, something is good or useful if it contributes to the greatest good for the greatest number

Utility refers to the value of a practice for society and/or for the individual.

Mill, On Liberty

254. purpose of book: Mill is going to argue that even “democratically elected” government needs to be limited to protect the people from government power;

254. Liberty creates limits on power of ruler, protection from his tyranny

rulers = necessary evils, their interests inevitably opposed to people; need ruler to protect, but rulers want to crush, exploit people.

But– democratic focus suggests that rulers are the same as people; rulers’ interest is the same as the nation, so the people do not need protection against their own will; Government only wants to take care of me…

However! p.255, are the “people” who exercise power really the same as those over whom it is exercised? Mill argues that self-government is not government of each by self, but government of each by all the rest!

The “will of the people” is actually the will of most numerous or active part of the people

256. Tyranny of Majority includes Social Tyranny; we need protection against the tyranny of prevailing opinion & feeling, tendency of society to impose rules of conduct on dissenters. So, Mill is concerned about limits placed on individual by law & society...


Where does “society” have a direct or legitimate interest in controlling my behavior?

First, ACTION or Behavior:

256. “The Sole end for which (you are) warranted in interfering with (my) liberty of action is self-protection. The only legit purpose for exercising power over (me) against (my) will is to prevent harm to others.

(My) own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient reason. I cannot rightfully be compelled to do or not because it will be better for (me) to do so, because it will make (me) happier, because to do so would be wise, moral, etc...”

These are good reasons for trying to persuade me, but not for compelling or forcing me… if the government wants to coerce me, my conduct must produce evil to someone else…

Over my self, my own mind and body, I am sovereign

Condition: Mill Refers to adult, competent moral agents: 1. free (not coerced); 2. mature (competent to choose); 3. informed (knows what he/she is doing) who does this exclude?

Mill's Utilitarian Solution: The Harm Principle: The State may restrict my freedom only to prevent harm to others

first, absolute freedom, if Self-regarding acts: affect only self; you can express your disapproval of my conduct through advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance, not coercion
Secondly, I am accountable for Other-regarding acts: those which affect others’ interests (not emotions or concerns)
The harm principle protects self-regarding acts from interference, creates a sphere of liberty.

Objection: Others are always affected.

Answer: other-regarding if there is risk or damage to interests of