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June 25, 2014

John Stuart Mill: On Liberty

Life History
John Stuart Mill who was working in the East India Company in the capacity of Administrator, he is also known as a theorist and economist. His father name is James Mill.  Mill gave a bright and poignant explanation of his life, and in particular of his rigorous education, he inscribed just before his death in his Autobiography. Mill piloted his working career in the East India Company (Capaldi, 2004). He left the company when British government has taken control over the Company’s administrative work in India after the 1857’s riots. He actively took part in political affairs as an Editor and then he served as a Member of Parliament, Liberal Party, from 1865 to 1868 for Westminster. He departed his life in 1873.

He became an expert in English and classical languages in his childhood. He received his education from his father, James Mill, and also has the complete guidance of Jeremy Bentham. He learned law from John Austin and became a capable theorist and a fully qualified economist at the age of seventeen.

He was suffered from a nervous breakdown at the age of 20. This has changed his way of thinking. He started to believe that only poetic imagination is not sufficient but people also need scientific approach to appreciate the economic and social change in the society.
On Liberty
            One of the major works of Mill was his book On Liberty published in 1859. This book discusses the social liberty of the individuals and the limits of the power applied by the rulers on their subjects. He discussed the struggle between the ruler and the ruled.
            In the past, one person ruled without any written laws. Instead, the kings claimed ownership of all the state’s lands and livestock, demanded taxes, and presided over a royal court with numerous attendants and ministers, all because such ways had been observed for as long as anyone could remember. As is often the case, traditional authority in these ancient states was based on religion and the rulers were considered to have divine status. On the other hand, in our present society small group or team of power actors, with common interests, share the responsibility of decision-making. This is a very tightly knit or cohesive group of power actors. Members of such cohesive groups are committed to group activities, and are happy when the group succeeds.
            According to Mill, Social tyranny is much more fetal for modern societies than political tyranny (Donner, 1991). He believed that social tyranny is the rule of the majority which was created with the adherence of rules of conduct (Brians et al.). He was of the opinion that the basic principal which leads to the majority “to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in each person’s mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathizes, would like them to act.” (Mill, 1999, p.48).
            Thus he suggested that there must be a reasonably designed principle which deals with the relationship between the society and the people. In other words this principle decides how to rule the people. He also gave that principle, which suggests,
“[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise”. (Mill, 1999, p. 51-2)

            Mill’s theory was different from other liberal theorists, on the ground that it gave freedom to individuals until it will not cause harm to other people and society (John Stuart Mill). He believed that adhering to his harm principle is necessary for the development of humanity as well as for the development of individuality. He believed that human nature is “not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.” (Mill, P.105).

            Nevertheless, the main objection which was raised by other scholars on this theory is that who will decide that when the harm is done. How one should identify the threshold of the harm which harm is personal and which involves others etc. these are complex questions which were not clarified by Mill.


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