On What Grounds Does Mill Defend Individual Liberty? Is His Argument Successful?

1587 words - 6 pages

It is a well known fact that only some sorts of restrictions on what a person can do, or what a person can choose, are considered restrictions on liberty. We do not say that gravity restricts our freedom to fly for example. What is then the case with our economic situation? Is it considered a restriction to our liberty? Surely we cannot consider the fact you are not able to purchase a personal jet a restriction on liberty. How about not having any money to buy food? Isn't that a restriction to our freedom? To answer these questions, we must first understand what 'liberty' entails. John Stuart Mill's political philosophy aims to address this topic in his work "On Liberty". Mill's definition of liberty comprises complete freedom of opinion and the unfettered opportunity to express and to act upon those personal opinions, as well as the ability to join with others of like mind to act upon those opinions, so long as doing so does not harm others. Central to Mill's argument is his notion of "harm", for Mill; essentially, individual freedom should only be restricted when the actions in question harm others. This principle is at the core of Mill's philosophy; however it is debatable whether this principle as set forth by Mill is a clear and plausible basis for evaluating the community's efforts to restrict individual freedom. Critics have argued on various grounds that the harm principle, a pillar of Mill's philosophy, is not such a clear and plausible concept. In order to judge whether Mill's defence of individual liberty, we must address this topic.Mill justifies the value of liberty through a Utilitarian approach. His essay tries to show the positive effects of liberty on all people and on society as a whole. In particular, Mill links liberty to the ability to progress and to avoid social stagnation. Liberty of opinion is valuable for two main reasons. First, the unpopular opinion may be right. Second, if the opinion is wrong, refuting it will allow people to better understand their own opinions. Liberty of action is desirable for parallel reasons. The nonconformist may be correct, or she may have a way of life that best suits her needs, if not anybody else's. Additionally, these nonconformists challenge social complacency, and keep society from stagnating. Essentially for Mill, individual liberty is the timeless ability to do or say whatever an individual wants."On Liberty" fundamentally tries to outline the 'struggle between liberty and authority' and how these two concepts interact with each other. His essay discusses 'social liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual'. Mill does this as he was sceptical of democracy, the prevailing political system at the time. He believed that the will of the people, 'practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people', and in turn he wanted to protect the rights of people outside this majority will from it....

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