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5.0 out of 5 stars The case for liberty based on utilitarianism rather than human rights,
This review is from: On Liberty (Kindle Edition)"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.
5.0 out of 5 stars His Best Book,
This review is from: On Liberty (Kindle Edition)I really think this is an inspiring book. I wish that everyone would read it. Mill argues for liberty with skill and with, what for him, might be classed as passion. He takes every one of the democratic freedoms, of speech, of association, of movement and argues for each one. he shows the forms of tyranny and the more subtle ones as well such as that of mass public opinion against the deviant or the independant. His "If all the World but one,were of one opinion argument is well known but not well known enough.
To read Kill is to understand the value of argument and discussion as opposed to squabbling and fighting.
4.0 out of 5 stars Free philosophy,
This review is from: On Liberty (Kindle Edition)How often in life dies one get the opportunity to take inboard a dose of wonderfully erudite information completely free? Well if one belongs to a good library and selects wisely, ALL the time, but with Kindle now many of the best known, and most thought-provoking, tomes can be delivered to you without even having to find the bus fare or the shoe leather required to hit the library trail.
I took this opportunity, having just vaguely heard io John Stuart Mills and, as a direct result, have had my mind opened and my my ideas shaken up sharply. I strongly recommend this publication to all those who feel jaded and worn out, it will amaze you if you open yourself up to the possibilities offered by it for self development and personal extension.
5.0 out of 5 stars On Liberty - JS Mill,
This review is from: On Liberty (Kindle Edition)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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to navigate chapters,
This review is from: On Liberty (Kindle Edition)easy to read on my kindle, its also easy to navigate chapters, which not all ebooks are. Came in very useful for one of my modules for my degree, I had to read loads of different thinkers so the fact that this was free was just great and instant delivery to my kindle was good too.
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On Liberty by John Stuart Mill