Liberty, written by John Stuart Mill, an english philosopher, and economist provides what liberty means to him. Throughout Mill’s article he addresses several points regarding liberty including why humanity is hurt in silencing opinions, the harm principle, and how much interference should the government have.
The way liberty is perceived has been a controversial issue throughout society for years. Mills stance on liberty provides an explanation for what liberty is, and how it should be utilized to better society.
Throughout this analysis Mills stance harm to others if not necessary will be examined, as well as evaluating points Mills stance was not as strong.
Mill defines his principle of liberty as, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to other.” In other words, Mill believes society should allow a person to be free, and only intervene when the actions of an individual cause harm to others.
Hence, interference with a person’s liberty for any reason other than preserving another life is not justifiable, and prevents a united development of society as a whole. According to Mill, true freedom is being able to pursuit what one may desire in any way they see fit; however, the harm of others must be avoided which preserves their true freedom.
Furthering, Mill believes that adopting his principles will allow for direct social benefits for all, will gain faster progress in all areas of society including, ideas, education, business, and anything else one has sought out to achieve.
Without the use of these principles, Mill believes society will become stagnant, leaving little room for mental growth and societal development. Unlike Hobbes, Mill believes if you give society a lot more freedom than they already have, then they’ll be less prone to threaten the stability of society. Hence, maximizing on the negative aspects of liberty will provide a direct benefit for all of society. Therefore, the difference remains, Hobbes wants to limit negative liberty for the sake of security, yet Mills wants to maximize it in order to achieve the greatest progress. Thus, free speech is necessary in order for people to freely listen, and try to understand opinions, rather than disproving without listening based on lack of individual thought. Any attempt to suppress any idea or expression for any reason causes a risk in the development of society. Which makes society more susceptible to become complacent about beliefs, and prevents the improvement of ideas and understanding. Mill believes free speech is a proactive element in social interactions where we must allow opinions a public hearing. Therefore, society is not only engaging in the opinions, their able to debate them, and sharpen their minds in testing and refining their current beliefs. Hence, Mill’s argument is addressing the consistent conflict regarding the realm of ideas, with no government interference, or public opinion.
As Mill argues freedom of speech, he also argues for individuals to live their lives as they see fit without interference. Although it is evident not everyone will make wise decisions, the abundance of choice will give room for debate, which in all leads to mental, and societal improvement. Thus, individuals should be able to possess these freedoms because the best, and most well rounded option is for society to gain a competitive variety which is given through such freedoms. Mill then realizes, in a rigorously competitive society some will succeed better off than others, most will not succeed at all, and material inequality will be the result. Mills main concern is his desire to create a space that the individuals of great talent, intellect, art, and business can work freely. Hence, the creative efforts of the few people in society who possess excellence will benefit themselves while allowing society to progress, which in all benefits everyone. Although the poor may end up worse off than the rich, the work of the rich will raise the standards for society shifting the work ethic of the poor. Mill then suggests that’s the best way to avoid stagnation as everyone will become more equal, even though at a slower rate of development.
Mill does a great job explaining his stance on liberty throughout the article. I agree with Mill’s view on Liberty being that the ultimate goal is to raise the standard of society as a whole. Even though Mills strongly proves his point of how liberty should be utilized in the re-development in society, I believe his use of the harm principle was not as strong.
Mill uses the Harm principle as a practical tool for people to resolve arguments. Something people can use to deal with particular social problems where there’s a debate about who should attend. This is in order to determine whether a certain activity falls under public, or private. Therefore, the question remains, does the following allow for harm?, if the response is no, others have no right to interfere no matter how much one is against the following. I believe allowing someone to act freely does not mean the government is prohibited from certain regulations. Certain instances cause for the right to put in place certain obstructions like required registration to purchase a gun, limited hours for alcohol sale, or even taxes on poisons. In Mill’s view, these actions are regrettable yet necessary. However, my main point is they do not result in forbidding something by law. Therefore, its best to avoid because the end result will hurt society to rely on governmental law to control those whose opinions and behavior cause others distress. For example, society has no direct duty to protect a person from him, or herself. However, there is good reason to advise, warn, instruct, but not to prohibit. If an individual decides to become a stripper, drink alcohol beyond their limits, take nyquil for pleasure, or live life on the edge they are at complete liberty to do so, especially if they are adults and have not caused harm to others. Therefore, a person who decided to become a stripper which ruined their good girl image should suffer nothing from society.
Within the article, Mill admits the harm principle is not perfect, and there are areas containing uncertainty like whether the government should allow individuals to be left to themselves, or intervene if felt necessary. Mill also admits some cases, such as the harm principle are difficult; however, it is important to keep in mind the government restrains initiative, and will not deal with issues as well as an individual can in private. Some may even argue governments have a duty to uphold certain beliefs which are detrimental to the well being of society. Although this is acceptable in some cases regarding the public at large, it may not be in personal circumstances. For instance, I think smoking is self destructive behavior. One is free to do in order to please themselves, and the government should not intervene unless the smell of the smoke is causing other individuals harm. Thus, why smoking is prohibited, and allowed in certain areas over others. Of course the government has a necessary role in society; however, I agree with Mill that we must be careful regarding government and public opinion suppressing creativity and the energy of society.