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On Liberty (English Library) [Paperback]

John Stuart Mill
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Jun 1998 English Library

'Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.' To this 'one very simple principle' the whole of Mill's essay On Liberty is dedicated. While many of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries, from Adam Smith to Godwin and Thoreau, had celebrated liberty, it was Mill who organized the idea into a philosophy, and put it into the form in which it is generally known today.

The editor of this essay, Gertrude Himmelfarb records responses to Mill's books and comments on his fear of 'the tyranny of the majority'. Dr Himmelfarb concludes that the same inconsistencies which underlie On Liberty continue to complicate the moral and political stance of liberals today.

Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Longman; 1 edition (16 Jun 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140432078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140432077
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 384,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Alexander should be commended for making this invaluable material accessible to scholars and students." -- Maria H. Moralies, Florida State University

"The introduction offers fresh insights...[and] the background readings provide much illumination into aspects of Mill's thought." -- Thomas Christiano, University of Arizona

"With an impressively compact and engaging introduction and a well-chosen selection of ancillary materials, Alexander's edition is an excellent choice." -- Eileen Gillooly, Columbia University --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Published in 1859, this essay by British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806–73) remains a major influence upon liberal political thought today. In this work, Mill defines liberty as an absolute individual right, and defends freedom of speech as a necessary condition of social and intellectual progress. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE subject of this essay is not the so-called 'liberty of the will', so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of philosophical necessity; but civil, or social liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Derek Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER
"On Liberty" is one of the most important books on political thought of the nineteenth century. Fortunately for the 21st century reader it is also one of the most accessible. Mill was a libertarian who chose not to base his defence of liberty on natural rights but on his own revised version of utilitarianism:
"I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions...grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being."
This enables Mill to argue that freedom is needed if man is to be able to explore all the avenues of human development that allow the human race to progress. Total freedom is impossible so what determines the legitimate boundaries of freedom? Mill distinguishes between self-regarding and other-regarding actions. The former should never be interfered with and the latter subject to limitation only if they harm the legitimate rights of others.

For Mill free thought is a self-regarding action which should not be curtailed, and free thought is virtually useless without free speech. He was concerned not only about legal curtailment but also the pressure of social conformity, for he feared a "tyranny of the majority". Mill then proceeds to add a utilitarian argument in favour of free speech: if an opinion is silenced then mankind is necessarily the loser whether the opinion is true or false. He advances a number of arguments to support this, concluding with the claim that a climate of freedom is essential for "great thinkers" and "it is as much, and even more indispensable to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature they are capable of." He has no truck with paternalists seeking to guide people's thoughts in the "right" direction.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic liberal philosophical statement 1 April 2000
John Stuart Mill is the classic liberal thinker of the 19 Century. In 'On Liberty' he sets out an unparreleled vision of how individuals must be allowed to choose their own morality and a bitter attack on state-control and a conformist society. Mill's style is both intelligent and wise (which has made it one of the key political writings of all time) and appraoachable to the amateur. I would recommend it to anyone interested in or studying philosophy, sociology or politics, and to any intelligent thinking person in general.
This edition in hardback and beautifully bound and presented makes it all the better and something one may keep for reference forever - it is always a joy to have fine books.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Libertarian and useful writings. 11 Nov 2005
By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE
The terms 'liberal' and 'socialist' have undergone many changes in meaning over the past century and a half. By the definitions of his own day, Mill was certainly the former and arguably the latter. By today's definitions, he would be neither. For his time, he was a remarkably progressive, even radical, thinker. He was, for example, an ardent advocate of women's rights. On the other hand, his paternalistic attitude toward developing societies is typical of his age.
The basic principles of both liberty and ethics that Mill propounds have been much criticized. It is easy to list exceptions, provisos and limitations to them, but they relate to extremely complex and intractable problems, and with such issues it is necessary to start with greatly simplified models, on which you can build. As first approximations, Mill's principles are actually quite good. That they are not the last words on the subjects should not distress us. Nothing ever will be. Only bigots arrive at final, absolute answers.
Mill's writing style oscillates between great (sometimes sublime) eloquence, and long, tortuous meanderings. He is often reluctant to finish a sentence and mortally afraid of relinquishing a paragraph. Some parts have to be carefully reread to make sense of all the subordinate clauses. But when he is good, he is very good. The section on free speech is classic.
For a contrasting contemporary view of social justice, the Communist Manifesto is useful. Like these two essays, it is relatively short and readable.
In Utilitarianism, Mill is building on the work of Jeremy Bentham, who in turn was part of a tradition that can be traced back to ancient Greece and the philosopher Epicurus.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By demola
"No one can be a great thinker who does not ... follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead". Mill's forceful advocacy for freedom and liberty has two central themes: firstly that society has no commission from on high to intervene in any person's life except where society might be harmed. Exactly this last condition becomes a slippery ground for Mill when he later tries to clarify the line between one's own business and that of others. This is not an easy point and Mills does as well as one can expect. The second theme is that since no one possesses all truth (obviously except for religious frauds or totalitarian despots) all diversity of opinion and expression of living must be encouraged because that's how we shall uncover more truth and remain vital. Almost all of the book is a powerful polemic against the crushing of individuality and character in people who hold "unpopular opinion". As Mills goes on to say: "Who can compute how much the world loses in the multitude of intellects who dare not follow any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought." There is more reasoned intelligence and current debate in this book than in virtually any newspaper you care to read today. The arguments against bigots "who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct they have a distate for" is still right on the mark 150 years after being written down.

I think On Liberty may have done for me what I had sought in all those positive thinking books gathering dust on my shelves. OL is a fulsome, nay winsome, celebration of individuality and strength and the joy of being different and seeking happiness in one's own way and to one's own taste. I am not (nor is anyone else) a statistic estimator to be ground down to within zero variance of the mean.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great little book
This is a great little book it was very informative and told me everything i needed to know for my assignment
Published 1 month ago by nicola elliott
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have
There was once a time when anyone over the age of fifteen was expected to have read this book; simply in order to function properly in society.
Published 7 months ago by Peter J Hayward
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a book...
I'm not giving Amazon credit for Mill's work...! The book is decent enough if you're into social or legal philosophy. Set out well too.
Published 11 months ago by Andrew Hills
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
It is the official book of the Liberal Democrats, and although their current actions do not reflect their ideals now (the Lib Dems I mean), anyone interested in the Party should... Read more
Published 17 months ago by matrix007
3.0 out of 5 stars American Spelling!?
I bought this book because it was cheap and I needed it for my uni course.
The print is legible and there is really nothing wrong with this book, except for the fact that the... Read more
Published on 29 Feb 2012 by Lingvist
5.0 out of 5 stars Utter perfection.
Masterfully written with sophistication and vivid illustration. This is not ivory-tower philosophy. It's real political philosophy with real and clear application. Read more
Published on 5 Sep 2011 by @garethalteran
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential read
I suppose there are many books that are regarded as essentail reading. However, if you are a fair, liberal minded person who cares about how to cooperate and work with your fellow... Read more
Published on 10 Jun 2010 by R. Barratt
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberty consists of doing everything which doesn't harm others...
In this rightly famous essay, J.S. Mill explains his vision on the `Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen' adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in Paris in... Read more
Published on 30 May 2010 by Luc REYNAERT
4.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom that we forget from the past
Hello. My name is Gary Shane McGill - On Liberty was required reading while I was at Salisbury University in Maryland for my Political Ideology classes. Read more
Published on 5 July 2008 by G. S. MCGILL
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring
An inspiring look into the origins of modern Western political thought, one of the birthplaces of Neo-Liberalism.
Published on 13 July 2007 by Arron Dickens
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