Comparing John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all dealt with the issue of political freedom within a society. John Locke's “The Second Treatise of Government”, Mill's “On Liberty”, and Rousseau’s “Discourse On The Origins of Inequality” are influential and compelling literary works which while outlining the conceptual framework of each thinker’s ideal state present divergent visions of the very nature of man and his freedom. The three have somewhat different views regarding how much freedom man ought to have in political society because they have different views regarding man's basic potential for inherently good or evil behavior, as well as the ends or purpose of political societies.
In order to examine how each thinker views man and the freedom he should have in a political society, it is necessary to define freedom or liberty from each philosopher’s perspective. John Locke states his belief that all men exist in "a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and person as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man." (Ebenstein 373) Locke believes that man exists in a state of nature and thus exists in a state of uncontrollable liberty, which has only the law of nature, or reason, to restrict it. (Ebenstein 374) However, Locke does state that man does not have the license to destroy himself or any other creature in his possession unless a legitimate purpose requires it. Locke emphasizes the ability and opportunity to own and profit from property as necessary for being free.
John Stuart Mill defines liberty in relation to three spheres; each successive sphere progressively encompasses and defines more elements relating to political society. The first sphere consists of the individuals "inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscious in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological." (Ebenstein 532) The second sphere of Mill's definition encompasses the general freedoms which allow an individual to freely peruse a "...life to suit our own character; of doing as we like..." (Ebenstein 533) Mill also states that these freedoms must not be interfered with by "fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them..." (Ebenstein 533), The final sphere of Mill's definition of liberty is a combination of the first two. He states that "...the freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced and or deceived." (Ebenstein 535)
Rousseau thought that man was born weak and ignorant, but virtuous. It is only when man became sociable that they became wicked. (Cress, 80) Since civil society makes men corrupt, Rousseau...