Monday, June 16, 2008

John Stuart Mill - On Liberty

John Stuart Mill's On Liberty is a long, yet simple text. He uses On Liberty as his personal way to defend individuality and the rights of the individual, no matter government or public opinion. Mill believed that in order for society to progress, it had to accept the many similarities and differences of each individual and that individual's opinions. This is clear when he writes, "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind" (pg 515, Fourth Paragraph). I believe that this statement clearly says that you cannot be closed-minded to the opinions of others. There is no excuse for this, you must be open to everyone's opinion for society to grow. I once heard that a wise man cannot become wise without accepting the opinions of those around him. I may be wrong, but I feel as though this statement from Mills supports that theory.

He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties.
(pg 518, First Paragraph)

Next to John Stuart Mill's defense of one's opinions, he also goes on to describe part of what gives an individual "individuality" and one's own character. I took from the quote above the impression that Mill is pushing his readers to think of rthemselves and choose their own paths, rather than the path chosen for them by external forces. If you let the world choose your path for you, then you shall always work for someone else, as their monkey, doing what you are told. On the contrary, the man that chooses his own path possesses his own character. He has individuality. As a result, he is his own boss and is capable of making all the necessary decisions that would benefit his future.

Mill made me look at being an individual from another perspective, from an external lens. Many people take individuality for granted and"follow the crowd." I am one of the many that Mill speaks of that has chosen my own path. I possess my own character and I value the opinion of others. If it were not for the opinions of others, I may not have ever seen my many qualities and flaws. I think, like Mill, that individuality should be cherished and protected.


Jonathan.Glance said...


You make several astute observations about Mill here, and do a good job of focusing on specific passages from On Liberty.

I think it is interesting that Mill defends free speech differently than we usually do--for him free speech is not an inalienable right, but beneficial to society. He defends it on utilitarian grounds.

Linh Huynh said...

I like when you mention that an opinion gives an individual "individuality" and one's own character. It is clear of his defense of free speech is different from the present. You need to hear opinions to help society grow not just because it is a right as you mentioned. Being an individual makes you, and if you do what you don't chose to do, you long for what you want to do versus what you actually are doing.