On Liberty by John Stuart Mill is a treatise on individual liberty, conscience, and freedom. John Stuart Mill was the greatest and perhaps the best-established English philosopher of modern times. In his On Liberty, he defends both freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Although he has much criticism of modern society, he also has much praise. In this text, we will look at his individualism, dialectical nature, concept of obligation, and why he believes the division of human beings into male and female sexes is irrelevant to moral reasoning. This book is foundational reading for anyone interested in freedom, liberty, and toleration.
The core principles in “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill are:
- Democracy in and of itself does not guarantee personal freedom.
- The only reason to limit liberty should be to save people from harm.
- False or Contrary opinions are not only good. They are necessary and can sharpen one’s thinking.
Utilitarians are those who defend a society’s right to decide issues of public concern through the use of force. The key to utilitarians’ advocacy of freedom of speech and press is that they believe that the state has no right to interfere in citizens’ philosophical or ethical opinions. They believe that a society should have an independent system of laws that determine what constitutes just and fair behavior. A society that allows the state to dictate how its citizens should behave is not a just and fair society, thus utilitarians support freedom of speech and press.
For utilitarianism, the concepts of liberty and justice are understood in terms of concepts of utility. According to utilitarianism, people share common purposes and desires, but are not obligated to pursue these ends. They share basic needs, but have the freedom to act to meet these needs in the way that best satisfies their natural instincts. The state cannot infringe upon these instincts to protect individuals from themselves. Utilitarians believe that a society is based upon the recognition of these natural instincts. They believe that these concepts are understood through the concepts of justice and fairness.
For other philosophers, political ideas are important to define and articulate. Aristotle argued that there are three fundamental political concepts: freedom, equity, and obligation. According to Aristotle, freedom is a natural right that can be neither unjustified nor justified. He believes that a society is a just and equal society when it protects its citizens from arbitrary rulers. He also believes that a just society is one in which everyone is allowed to pursue his natural instincts and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
According to some philosophers, justice is a principle that prevents the unjust or excessive taking of wealth by any group or category of people. This principle is often called a negative principle, because it denies the right of any group to commit injustice or excessive harms. According to Rawls, a society’s social contract is the greatest safeguard against excessive or unjust exploitation. In essence, the principle of justice provides protection against the exploitation of one person by another.
The third and most important part of this book is its treatment of free-market capitalism. In the introduction, Rawls outlines his theory of justice as liberalism, a political economy that privileges the equal rights of all citizens. He maintains that the principle of justice allows individuals and groups to participate in economic markets, shape their own bodies of value, and establish laws and institutions that promote these values. But he warns against the assumption that individuals and their rights are unlimited. He admits that individuals may be able to control their bodies of value through legislation and the exercise of political power. Still, they cannot be permitted to do so via the government.
John Stuart Mill offers several criticisms of typical political economy and several challenges to the Lockean moral standard. Among these challenges are that Locke presents only an anonymous self-ownership view of property and that his arguments against government interference in people’s private lives conflict with the natural rights of individuals. Moreover, according to John Stuart Mill, economic freedom and protection for individual liberty are essential components of liberalism. According to John Stuart Mill, liberal economic policies prevent extreme concentrations of wealth and provide a fair playing field for small entrepreneurs. Furthermore, he believes that protecting individual rights is the best means to ensure freedom and liberty.
In the final chapter, “Demystifying economics,” Stuart traces the history of economic liberalism and examines the varied opinions and political philosophies. He argues that there are three main schools of economic thought in modern society – utilitarianism, liberalism, and laisseurship. Utilistic economic thinkers believe that the means to attain happiness is the pursuit of utility and that social goals should be the aim of all economic activity. Liberal thinkers, on the other hand, believe that individuals derive pleasure from the association and that government should seek to enhance the general level of knowledge and promote the higher pleasures of life. Finally, laisseurship believers believe that the distribution of wealth among persons is largely a matter of personal responsibility. The distribution of wealth should not depend on the basis of natural advantages or the number of family members. Utilist economists tend to agree with utilitarians concerning the importance of a well-balanced economy.