On Liberty

The 1859 essay (very long essay) by John Stuart Mill sets forth his views on liberty. It contains a lot of things we take for granted in discourse today, but back then was probably original and challenging thought.

Below, I have picked out some of the thoughts I found most interesting.

On the persecution of truth. Mill suggests that maybe we should persecute it, because it cannot do truth any harm, but will weed out nonsense. However, he then counters by pointing out that there are lots of historical example of when truth was successfully dismissed. “Men are not more zealous for truth, than they are for error”. However, like a good trick in evolution (as Daniel Dennett would say), a correct idea will eventually be discovered time and time again.

On the origin of morals in Christianity, Mill points out that Christians have both Christian morals and societal morals, and only follow the Christian morals that match those of society. They don’t for example avoid shellfish or sell all their possessions to give the money to the poor.

He also argues Christianity is also inherently negative. Thou shall not, rather than thou shall. Then backing it up with the Heaven-Hell carrot-stick.

How do we balance individual liberty with the interests of society? Mill argues that we should basically be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it does not harm others. The “harm others” could be a broad church though. If the actions of a man harm his duty to his family for example, we could arguably interfere.

He also notes that you do not need to enforce everything through law. Social rules and conventions can also be used to police behaviour.

Mill argues for universal education, but only that the state should require parents to provide education for their child. He is against the state providing such an education because the state could use it to educate everyone to their own will.




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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 at 11:36 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.