At the age of three, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) began to train under the tutelage of his philosopher-father for a life as an intellectual. Exhibiting the brilliance that his father expected, Mill soon became one of the leading intellectuals of the day and a principal proponent of the philosophy of Utilitarianism. Holding as a central tenet that actions are appropriate if they maximize the happiness of all, Utilitarianism served to buttress the prevailing laissez-faire approach of nineteenth century England and to defend that society from those who sought to reform and humanize capitalism.
Your selection from Mill is from one of his more famous works: On Liberty (1859). In it Mill expresses his views on freedom, personal liberty, and the appropriate limits to the authority of the state and society.
Questions for Consideration and Discussion
- How does Mill define liberty?
- According to Mill, when is it appropriate for society to restrict individual liberty?
- How would Mill respond to social reformers who called for protective legislation aimed at improving the conditions of working people?
- Please compare Mill’s philosophy with that espoused by Marx and Engels. Whose view do you find more appealing? Explain.
- Do you agree with Mill’s philosophy? Explain.