Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn more Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars54
4.5 out of 5 stars
Format: Kindle Edition|Change
Price:£0.49
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 February 2011
"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. He was equally hostile to the idea that people had the right not to be offended; hence he opposed the blasphemy law. The single case Mill gives of an acceptable limitation of free speech is the case of corn-dealers and an excited mob. An opinion expressed in a newspaper that corn-dealers are "starvers of the poor" is legitimate, but the same view stated to an angry mob outside the corn-dealer's home may be limited if it "is a positive instigation to a mischievous act."

Mill concedes that actions cannot be as free as speech and seeks to establish the proper limits of freedom of action. Mill proposes that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted...in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection." Because he rejects paternalism he opposes all interference with self-regarding actions. Mill would not have prevented people from taking drugs and he would have led the opposition to seat belt legislation. Mill even rejects state interference with liberty for the sake of crime prevention, e.g. poisons can be used for criminal purposes. Mill was willing to accept a register of their sale but not the banning of them. Mill believes we must not interfere with the "rights"of others but these are narrowly circumscribed and Mill makes it clear that "rights" are not the same as "interests". Hence cut-throat laissez-faire is legitimate. As for moral decency arguments Mill does say that sexual intercourse in public is unacceptable, and though fornication and gambling are acceptable he is in two minds about whether pimps and casino-owners should be allowed to operate. Mill says it is a difficult case that is on the borderline, but adds that in general we must resist attempts to limit behaviour for "moral" reasons because any such action is likely to be the thin end of the wedge.

Though Mill is a very determined anti-paternalist he makes three exceptions: children, primitive societies and the disabled. Children must be guided until they reach maturity and they must be given compulsory education - something not given legislative force until 1871. As for primitive societies we must resist the notion that Mill was a typical Victorian believing in the "white man's burden" or inherent differences between races. He simply observed the reality of the world in the mid-nineteenth century but made it very clear any intervention in backward societies must be temporary with the aim to bring about self-government as soon as possible.

Hence Mill was a much more determined libertarian than most modern writers on the subject. There is just one example where, at first sight, Mill may seem reactionary to modern readers. He wished to restrict the right to have children to those who could prove that they could support them. However, those who today wish others to procreate without restriction do so on the grounds of human rights. Mill based his theories on utilitarianism, and not on rights. There was no welfare state when Mill wrote "On Liberty" and he was concerned with the well-being of children born to people without the means to support them.

In view of the growing restrictions on freedom in Britain this is a book well worth reading again. In particular I like Mill's argument that every restriction on freedom is the thin end of the wedge, providing a justification for further restrictions.
0Comment|16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 August 2011
"On Liberty" is ideally suited to the Kindle format as it is quite short. The introduction gives some interesting backgound information rather than analysis or insight.

This essay is also 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 opposed not only to legal curtailment but also to social conformity, for he feared a "tyanny 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. He was equally hostile to the idea that people had the right not to be offended; hence he opposed the blasphemy law. The single case Mill gives of an acceptable limitation of free speech is the case of corn-dealers and an excited mob. An opinion expressed in a newspaper that corn-dealers are "starvers of the poor" is legitimate, but the same view stated to an angry mob outside the corn-dealer's home may be limited if it "is a positive instigation to a mischievous act."

Mill concedes that actions cannot be as free as speech and seeks to establish the proper limits of freedom of action. Mill proposes that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted...in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection." Because he rejects paternalism he opposes all interference with self-regarding actions. Mill would not have prevented people from taking drugs and he would have led the opposition to seat belt legislation. Mill even rejects state interference with liberty for the sake of crime prevention, e.g. poisons can be used for criminal purposes. Mill was willing to accept a register of their sale but not the banning of them. Mill believes we must not interfere with the "rights"of others but these are narrowly circumscribed and Mill makes it clear that "rights" are not the same as "interests". Hence cut-throat laissez-faire is legitimate. As for moral decency arguments Mill does say that sexual intercourse in public is unacceptable, and though fornication and gambling are acceptable he is in two minds about whether pimps and casino-owners should be allowed to operate. Mill says it is a difficult case that is on the borderline, but adds that in general we must resist attempts to limit behaviour for "moral" reasons because any such action is likely to be the thin end of the wedge.

Though Mill is a very determined anti-paternalist he makes three exceptions: children, primitive societies and the disabled. Children must be guided until they reach maturity and they must be given compulsory education - something not given legislative force until 1871. As for primitive societies we must resist the notion that Mill was a typical Victorian believing in the "white man's burden" or inherent differences between races. He simply observed the reality of the world in the mid-nineteenth century but made it very clear any intervention in backward societies must be temporary with the aim to bring about self-government as soon as possible.

Hence Mill was a much more determined libertarian than most modern writers on the subject. There is just one example where, at first sight, Mill may seem reactionary to modern readers. He wished to restrict the right to have children to those who could prove that they could support them. However, those who today wish others to be allowed to procreate at will do so on the grounds of human rights. Mill based his theories on utilitarianism, and not on rights. There was no welfare state when Mill wrote "On Liberty" and he was concerned with the well-being of children born to people without the means to support them.

In view of the growing restrictions on freedom in Britain this is a book well worth reading again. In particular I like Mill's argument that every restriction on freedom is the thin end of the wedge, providing a justification for further restrictions.
0Comment|10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 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.
0Comment|24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 11 November 2005
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. So if you are looking to achieve a more complete picture, you may want to read a little about those two thinkers first.
The Bantam edition conveniently comprises Mill's two most famous works and is compact and cheap, but the introduction by Alan Dershowitz is appallingly bad. It in no way illuminates the text and serves only as a vehicle for Dershowitz's own prejudices. So if you just want to read the texts, get the Bantam edition, but if you would like useful editorial contributions, look elsewhere.
0Comment|22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 May 2010
"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.
11 comment|7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 8 September 2015
Mill does tend to adopt a fairly waffling prose, however if you want the basics of what it means to have individual liberty and in what ways that can be associated and lived in within a democracy than this is your book.

The chapters are laid out well but themes and thoughts are often repeated throughout, so have patience to find things that are new. In fact to get a broad overview of a chapter you can do this by reading the first and last paragraphs. This will miss several examples and illustrations in which he cements these ideas within history and in a way that may be useful to understand.

Having said this this is a pretty easy book to read, so if you are a beginner in philosophy or the subject of liberty and utilitarianism then this is perfect. What is especially good is the last chapter (5) which is just of applications which uses his theories and thoughts and applies them to practical instances. This is useful to get to grips the theory, and if you study philosophy a perfect thing to draw on when trying to explain and discuss Mill.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 April 2014
Justifications of persons' liberty and boundaries of that liberty in both of narrow personal and broad state perspectives.
It is strongly recommended for every lawyer or a any other social active person.
The problem of the book I found is the complexity of the language. One may easily get lost among parts of a single sentence.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 February 2012
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 spelling of Mill's text has been changed to American spelling, for whatever reason. I find that quite annoying, since everytime I want to quote something, I have to change it back to British, or in this case original, spelling.
I understand that the publisher of this book is based in New York, yet I don't see the need to change the original spelling Mill used.
That said, this is probably just a minor point for most potential buyers, although it would've led me to buy another version of 'On Liberty'
0Comment|5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 9 May 2013
This is the ultimate work on Liberty and Freedom by one of the ultimate free and critical thinkers.
It should be required reading in every secondary school and university.
It shows why people should be free to choose their own way, with as little outside interference as possible.
It is very readable and understandable.
Recommended+++
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
HALL OF FAMEon 15 July 2004
It is surprising to me how many people assume that 'On Liberty' was written before or during the American Revolution - Mill was certainly influenced by the spirit of American liberty, which was variously romanticised and adapted in Britain and Europe during the nineteenth century. Published in 1859, 'On Liberty' is one of the primary political texts of the nineteenth century; perhaps only the writings of Marx had a similar impact, and of the two, in today's world, Mill's philosophy seems the one that is triumphant.
One of the interesting ideas behind 'On Liberty' is that this may in fact be more the inspiration of Harriet Taylor (later Mrs. J.S. Mill) than of Mill himself; Taylor wrote an essay on Toleration, most likely in 1832, but it remained unpublished until after her death. F.A. Hayek (free-market economist and philosopher) noticed this connection. Whether this was the direct inspiration or not, the principles are similar, and the Mills were rather united in their views about liberty.
'On Liberty' is more of an extended essay than a book - it isn't very long (104 pages of the text in the Norton Critical Edition, edited by David Spitz). It relates as a political piece to his general Utilitarianism and political reform ideology. A laissez faire capitalist in political economy, his writing has been described as 'improved Adam Smith' and 'popularised Ricardo'. Perhaps it is in part the brevity of 'On Liberty' that gives it an enduring quality.
There are five primary sections to the text. The introduction sets the stage philosophically and historically. He equates the histories of classical civilisations (Greece and Rome) with his contemporary England, stating that the struggle between liberty and authority is ever present and a primary feature of society. He does not hold with unbridled or unfettered democracy, either (contrary to some popular readings of his text) - he warns that the tyranny of the majority can be just as dangerous and damaging toward a society as any individual or oligarchic despotism. Mill looks for a liberty that permits individualism; thus, while democracy is an important feature for Mill, there must be a system of checks and balances that ensures individual liberties over and against this kind of system. All of these elements receive further development in subsequent sections.
The second section of the text is 'Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion'. Freedom of speech and expression is an important aspect here. Mill presents a somewhat radical proposition that even should the government and the people be in complete agreement with regard to coercive action, it would still be an illegitimate power. This is an important consideration in today's world, as governments and people contemplate the curtailment of civil liberties in favour of increased security needs. The possibility of fallibility, according to Mill, makes the power illegitimate, and (again according to Mill) it doesn't matter if it affects many or only a few, people today or posterity. It is still wrong. Mill develops this argument largely by using the history of religious ideas and religious institutions, in addition to the political (since the two were so often inter-related).
The third section is perhaps the best known and most quoted, 'Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being'. It is perhaps a natural consequence of Enlightenment thinking that individuality over communal and corporate identity would dominate. Our world today goes back and forth between individual and communal identities (nationality, regionality, employment, church affiliation, school affiliation, sports teams, etc.). Mill's ideas of individual are very modern, quite at home with the ideas of modern political and civil individuality, with all of the responsibilities.
Mill states, 'No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions.' He recognises the increased limitations on individual liberty given that we do live in communal settings, but this does not hinder the idea of individuality and individual liberty, particularly as it pertains to thoughts and speech. Mill explores various ideas of personal identity and action (medieval, Calvinist, etc.) to come up with an idea of individuality that is rather modern; of course, this is political personhood that pre-dates the advent of psychology/psychoanalytic theory that will give rise to a lot more confusion for the role of identity and personhood in society.
The fourth primary section looks theoretically at the individual in community, 'Of the Limits to the Authority of Society Over the Individual'; the final section looks at specific applications. Mill discounts the idea of social contract while maintain that there is a mutual responsibility between individuals and community. Mill looks at the Temperance movements and laws as an example of bad laws (not only from the aspect of curtailment of liberty, but also for impractical aspects of enforcement); in similar examples, Mill looks at the role of society in regulating the life of the individual, calling on good government to always err on the side of the individual.
Mill puts it very directly -- Individuals are accountable only to themselves, unless their actions concern the interests of society at large. Few in the Western world would argue with this today; however, we still live in a world where 'thought police' are feared, and 'political correctness' is debated as appropriate or not with regard to individual liberties.
Mill wrote extensively beyond this text, in areas of philosophy (logic, religion, ethics). The particular text I use here, the Norton Critical Edition, has a good annotated text of 'On Liberty', a copy of Harriet Taylor's essay, 'On Tolerance', and a criticism section, including five essays written against Mill's ideas and constructions, and four essays in favour. There is also a useful bibliography and index.
This should probably be required reading in civics classes, if not in the pre-university years for students, then certainly in the early university years.
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.