Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Liberty

Reading my philosophy book, I came across this great passage from John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty", written in 1859. 

"The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mindkind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty or action of any of their number, is self-protection.  That the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised ove 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. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even right.  These are good reasons for remostrating with him or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise.  To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else.  The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

The man who wrote this (a white, British, male!) also wrote another work, a century ahead of its time , "The Subjection of Women" (1869), for women's emancipation and continued to extend his argument in "On Liberty" to include women.

John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham were "Utilitarian". The principe of utility maintains that there is only one way to determine whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, and that is by considering its usefulness or "utility" in bringing about pleasant results.  An action is right if it brings about more happiness than any other possible action; it is wrong if some other possible action could have produced more happiness.  Utilitarianism is a "teleological theory", that is, any theory that evaluates the rightness and wrongness of an action by the consequences likey to result from it.

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