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On Liberty [Paperback]

By John Stuart Mill (Author)
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Item description for On Liberty by John Stuart Mill...

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London: John W. Parker and Son, 1859. Reprinted 2002 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. LCCN 2001053980. ISBN 1-58477-221-2. Cloth. $65. Influenced by the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Mill [1806-1873] adopted a modified laissez-faire position, believing in the efficiency of free enterprise, but aware of the frequent failure of the market to maximize utility. Later refining this stance, he argued that the promotion of happiness is a moral duty (though he made a clear distinction between desirable and undesirable forms of pleasure). These ideas had a decisive influence on Mill's classic 1859 essay, perhaps the most celebrated defense of individual freedom and "self-protection" to appear in English based on utilitarian values rather than natural right. Cannon, Oxford Companion to British History 643. Printing and the Mind of Man 345. Dictionary of National Biography XIII 390-399.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   152
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.82" Width: 5.98" Height: 0.63"
Weight:   0.71 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 18, 2008
ISBN  9568356266  
ISBN13  9789568356262  

Availability  54 units.
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More About John Stuart Mill

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! John Stuart Mill (1806 - 73) formed the Utilitarian Society which met to read and discuss essays. His works include On Liberty and Principles of Political Economy.
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) set out to theorize a simple and equitable legal system. The law of utility, for which is best remembered, states that the goodness of a law can be measured in accordance with the measure in which it subserves the happiness of hte individual.
Alan Ryan is Warden of New College, Oxford and is currently on sabbatical in Stanford. His other books include Property and Political Theory and Bertrand Russell: A Political Life.

John Stuart Mill was born in 1806 and died in 1873.

John Stuart Mill has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Bantam Classics
  2. Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
  3. Dover Thrift Editions
  4. Great Books in Philosophy
  5. Library of Liberal Arts
  6. Modern Library Classics (Paperback)
  7. Penguin Classics

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Current Events > Civil Rights & Liberties
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > General
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > History & Theory

Reviews - What do customers think about On Liberty?

No wonder Nietzsche called Mill a "blockhead"...  May 26, 2008
In the Introduction to "On Liberty," Currin Shields, an English egghead, bemoans the fact that Mill's most "famous" essay is "more talked about than read."

I'm surprised it is even talked about, and I am very much NOT surprised that hardly anyone reads it. Mill takes about a hundred and twenty pages to say what could be (and was) summed up in an epigram: People should be free to do whatever they want, as long as it does not harm anyone else.

Not only does Mill subject the reader to pages and pages of supererogatory writing, but his prose is the epitome of Victorian verbosity, with more modifiers, clauses, footnotes, and parentheticals than there are alcoholics in Butte, Montana. (And there are a LOT of alcoholics in Butte, Montana.)

I guess if you're studying philosophy, you're gonna have to read this thing sooner or later...likewise if you're an autodidact.
A Keen Analysis of Liberal Thought  Jun 26, 2007
In many ways, one is tempted to think that there is no such thing as liberalism alive in America today. It would do many well to read the work of the Englishman Mill in order to understand much of what is called both "liberalism" as well as "individual liberty." In addition, one of the growing issues of the contemporary political landscape in America is a polarization which is wholly unnecessary when analysis is applied the current plane of consideration. The reason for this conspicuous lack of reason for polarization is made obviously clear when one reads a work on liberal thought like that of Mill's. For Mill, individual liberty is a question both of social and political proportions, demanding a lack of interference by both government and social pressures. Additionally, he is keen in his analysis of the need for humility when it comes to humanity's apprehension of the Truth, thus necessitating free speech as a vehicle for the continual realization of those parts of the Truth which man so often forgets because of personal bias.

However, the analysis is weak insofar as it also denies the need for structures to educate humanity in a fallen world. His criteria for legal and social sanctions does overlook the necessity to draw on tradition to properly shape those in the world (while maintaining individual dignity). While he acknowledges that it would be preposterous to deny the necessity of interrelationships and sharing of experience, Mill remains somewhat weak on the necessity of tradition and community as related to individual liberty. However, on the whole, the work presents a decent overview of the need to acknowledge individual dignity through the liberty of the individual. Indeed, all communal criticisms aside, On Liberty does indeed serve as a corrective against crass traditionalism which propagates itself without true individual consent and embrace. Therefore, even in its weakness, it remains strong as a key text on the primacy of the human individual as the recipient and follower of the Truth. In a day when liberty is shouted by groups who have no interest in talking to each other, such a small text would do well to make all groups realize that our American (and indeed Western) goals aren't that different, that we are united in trying to express human dignity through the individuals.
A classic of current relevance  May 16, 2007
A work every 21st Century conservative should read and understand.
Amazing  Mar 7, 2007
I don't really like the fact that Mill wasn't religious- I don't believe you can have a just person who doesn't believe in a higher power, but the economics in On Liberty and the politics are amazing. It comes down to this: No one should be prevented from thinking or doing anything except that which harms others. In other words: government needs to get out of our bidness!
The great defender of individual liberty  Dec 24, 2006
John Stuart Mill, 1806-73, worked for the East India Co. helped run Colonial India from England. Minister of Parliament 1865-68 he served one term. Maiden speech was a disaster his second was great success. He was first MP to propose that women should be given the vote on equal footing with the men who could vote. He got 1/3 support, England gives franchise to women after U.S. He was a great Feminist, his essay "Subjection of Women" is written with great passion and prose. It was a brave position for him to take he was ridiculed for it. He favored democracy, and letting more men from lower classes the right to vote, but believed that people that are more educated should have more votes then less educated because they would make better decisions about what government should do. He would have wanted to extend education to the masses, so that all may have gotten 2-3 votes and so on. He didn't think it should be extended to where a small elite could carry the day on votes. The idea was that if the working class, and middle class, where divided on an issue, the people with more intelligence would have the power to tip the balance. Mill thought that people with more education would probably not only be better able to make political decisions, especially in terms of intellectually being able to see what would be best for the government to do, but that they would also be more concerned about the common good publicly then people in general. He was intensely educated by his father James. John could read Greek, and Latin at 6 yrs.; his Dad tutored him at home. Dad thought environment was everything. He was treated like an adult, never played games with kids; he had a very cerebral upbringing. He had a period of depression in his twenties, it changed his philosophy, and he recognized the importance of developing feelings along with the intellect, this is something that he stressed in his work. He read poetry to get out of depression; he became devoted to poetry and became a romantic. He fell in love with a married woman Harriet Taylor, was a platonic relationship, after her husband's death they married 3 years later and probably never consummated the marriage maybe due to his having syphilis. His dedication to "On Liberty" is to her, very devoted to each other. Both buried together in Avignon France where they used to vacation.

Mill as a moral theorist subscribed to a theory we call Utilitarianism. It means---In some way morality is about the maximization of happiness. Whether actions are right or wrong depends on how happiness can be most effectively maximized. I say in some way, because there are allot of different kinds of Utilitarians. Allot of different ways of saying exactly how it is the maximization of happiness comes into morality. Therefore, happiness is clearly an important idea for Utilitarians. Mill has a hedonistic view of happiness, he thinks that happiness can be defined in terms of "pleasure in the absence of pain." What is distinctive about Mill in this area is that he believes that some kinds of pleasure are better than others are, and add more to a person's happiness than other kinds of pleasures. He believes in what he calls, "higher quality pleasures." These are pleasures, he says, that we get from the exercise of faculties that only human beings happen to have. So the intellect, imagination, the moral feelings, these are the sources of higher quality pleasures people use. His view seems to be that a certain quantity of intellectual pleasure just adds more to your happiness, and a given quantity of some lower pleasure like a kind we would share with the animals such as sensation, taste, sexual pleasure, etc. His "higher quality pleasures" in a way echo Aristotle's ethics. The idea of those things that make us distinctly human that are the real key to our happiness, that is in Mill also. It is not as limited to reason and intellect as Aristotle thinks. Mill recognizes the importance of the appreciation of beauty, aesthetic pleasure, and moral pleasure. He frankly owes a debt to Aristotle that he never properly acknowledges, never gives him proper credit.

"On Liberty" is Mill's is his most widely read and enduring work. It is an indispensable essay on political thought, which strenuously argues for individual liberty. He is defending what he calls the "liberty principle." It is a principle that guarantees individuals quite a bit of personal freedom. "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." These quoted sentences in John Stuart Mill's book, "On Liberty," embody the crux of his argument; that the power of the state must intrude as little as possible on the liberty of its citizenry. In essence, Mill was against using the power of the state through its lawmaking apparatus to compel citizens to conduct themselves in ways that society deems moral or appropriate. Mill thought that people had not only a right, but also a duty to develop their intellectual faculties, which is indispensable to maximize their happiness. He believed that society improved for all its citizens when they where left unfettered to the maximum extent possible, allowing them to use their imagination and intellect to improve themselves. Mill postulates a theory that societies usually institute laws based primarily on "personal preference" of its citizenry instead of established principles. This lack of clarity of opinion often leads to the government frequently interfering in the lives of its citizens unnecessarily. For Mill, there are very few times when the state can infringe on the personal liberty of others. Firstly, the state has the right to promulgate laws that prevent a person's actions from harming others. Secondly, the state must protect those citizens who are not mature enough to protect themselves, such as children. Thirdly, he exempts, "... backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage." In Mill's view, immature societies need a benevolent leader to rule them until they have developed to a point where they, "... have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion ..." Mill said this third exemption did not apply to any of the countries in Europe. Mill believed that forced morality by the state on its citizen's liberties was destructive to their inward development, and could even lead to a violent reaction by them against the government.

There are different parts of his defense of this, different arguments that he gives. He has a long chapter on freedom of speech and press. He has some very specific reasons why he thinks those freedoms are important. Always in the background for Mill is the idea of development, and making it possible for more people to enjoy these higher quality pleasures. How do we help people develop their distinctly human faculties, in ways that will help them enjoy their higher quality pleasures? Because for him that is the way, we maximize the total amount of happiness that is enjoyed in the world, and that is the object of morality as far as he is concerned. Utilitarianists believe that maximizing happiness is ultimately, what morality is all about. That does not mean maximizing your own happiness that means maximizing the total amount of happiness that is enjoyed, not only by yourself but also by everybody else as well.

Roger Kimball, in his book "Experiments Against Reality" wrote, "On Liberty" was published in 1859, coincidentally the same year as "On the Origin of Species." Darwin's book has been credited--and blamed--for all manner of moral and religious mischief. But in the long run "On Liberty" may have effected an even greater revolution in sentiment.

I read this book for a graduate class in Philosophy. Recommended reading for anyone interested in philosophy, political science, and history.

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