J.S. Mill


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Slides on the political thought of John Stuart Mill for an undergraduate course in Political Thought that I taught between 2003-2005.

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  • Learning Objectives 1.) To appreciate John Stuart Mill’s notion of liberty (and why it is negative liberty). 2.) To understand Mill’s ideas on individuality and its implications on the exercise of freedom.
  • J.S. Mill

    1. 1. On Liberty (John Stuart Mill)
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>Who was John Stuart Mill? </li></ul><ul><li>What were his ideas on individual liberty? </li></ul><ul><li>What was his defense for freedom of speech (i.e. thought and discussion)? </li></ul><ul><li>Why did he favor individuality in society? </li></ul>
    3. 3. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) <ul><li>Prodigious political economist </li></ul><ul><li>Third-generation Benthamite </li></ul><ul><li>Contemporary of Alexis de Tocqueville </li></ul><ul><li>Member of parliament and public official </li></ul><ul><li>Made famous by his essay “On Liberty” </li></ul>
    4. 4. On Individual Liberty <ul><li>Liberty is absolute insofar as the individual is concerned </li></ul><ul><ul><li>the “inward domain of consciousness” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>liberty of tastes and pursuits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>freedom of association </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Negative Liberty <ul><li>The limit of liberty in society is when it impinges upon the liberty of others </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, the only justifiable reason to interfere with an individual’s exercise of liberty is to prevent harm to others </li></ul>
    6. 6. Negative Liberty <ul><li>There is a need to regulate the exercise of freedom… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>by individuals vis-à-vis other individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>by government vis-à-vis those whom they govern </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>by society vis-à-vis the demands made on government </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. On Freedom of Speech <ul><li>In democracies, public opinion overpowers alternative ideas </li></ul><ul><li>The tendency is for individuals to be intolerant of ideas that go against the grain </li></ul><ul><li>At times, people take for granted the rationale behind conventional wisdom </li></ul>
    8. 8. On Freedom of Speech <ul><li>No one is infallible </li></ul><ul><li>Dissenting opinions may possess some truth </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion enables people to better understand what is true </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion allows people to take to heart what is accepted as true </li></ul>
    9. 9. On Freedom of Speech <ul><li>Mill’s criterion of truth is prescient of Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All knowledge is tentative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We only accept as true that which can be and has not been falsified (disputed) </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. On Individuality <ul><li>Societies generally prefer conformity over individuality </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conformity = Stability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conformity reflects the preference of the majority </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Thus customs/traditions are important to promote conformity </li></ul>
    11. 11. On Individuality <ul><li>It is in man’s nature to be free and express his individuality </li></ul><ul><li>Man possesses faculties that allow him to discern and make choices </li></ul><ul><li>To deprive man of such choices is to stunt his development </li></ul><ul><li>The key is to harness this individuality properly </li></ul>
    12. 12. On Mill’s Other Ideas <ul><li>Utility as the final arbiter of ethical questions </li></ul><ul><li>Liberty as proper to a particular stage of societal development </li></ul><ul><li>Skepticism towards organized religion </li></ul><ul><li>Etc. </li></ul>