On Liberty

The Benefits and Limitations of Liberty in J.S. Mill's On Liberty

In John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, Mill states that individual liberty may be limited by only one thing: the self-preservation of society and other individuals. To that end, man must retain the liberty to act and think as he so chooses, without the suppression of ideas or opinions, as long as it does not harm others. Mill states, “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their members, is self-protection…[his] own good, physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” (p. 14) Mill justifies this theory as a solution to two types of tyranny: tyranny of the majority, in which the many persecute the few, and tyranny of public opinion, in which society seeks to impose a set of values on everyone. Although Mill allows all actions that do not directly harm others, he thoroughly supports laws that penalize inaction where action would prevent harm to another. In his utilitarian theory, he argues that the usefulness of liberty is warranted by its benefit for mankind: “I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being” (p....

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