John Stuart Mill Essay

1343 words - 6 pages

J.S. Mill's liberalism was an important and essential advance beyond the liberalism of Hobbes through his emphasis on the liberty of thought and discussion which dealt with the freedom to articulate one's opinions, the freedom to participate in intellectual, political, religious and general debates and arguments, and the freedom of the press, yet he remained essentially similar to Hobbes when he engaged the notion of the liberty of action by having attempted to distinguish the area in which an individual is free to act upon his will, opinions and thoughts.To Mill, one could never be certain about the reality or fabrication of a certain opinion or viewpoint. Any assumption of complete ...view middle of the document...

An atmosphere of intellectual freedom, according to Mill, also benefited the general mental well-being of mankind. It served to nurture probing intellectuals to venture unimpeded into bold, ingenious lines of thought, and enabled normal humans to develop to full potential their mental capabilities, including judgments. By having reduced the deadening effects of received opinions, a society where intellectual debate prevailed would also have served to strengthen its members' reasoning faculties. Even on the disinterested bystander, a collision of opinion would reveal to him truths and falsehoods he would never have considered.The benefits that Mill attributed to a society that allowed freedom of action within a certain sphere are similar. These are derived from Mill's assumption of the intrinsic good of individuality.Mill believed that an individual (and indeed all mankind) had his human capabilities withered away if he blindly followed customs, and conformed his nature to a mechanistic model, which it was not. This was because no two persons were identical, and what was suited to one might have been unsuitable to another. Most importantly, if individuality was stifled by an atmosphere of conformity, the exercise of choice by an individual was also stifled. It was this exercise of choice, the liberty to choose, that Mill was primarily concerned with.According to Mill, it was only through a regular exercise of choice that a man benefited from developing his faculties of perception, reason, discriminate feeling, and even moral preference. Without this, man was no more than a machine, devoid of his own desires, wishes, opinions and even feelings.Thus, to Mill, it was only in an atmosphere where people were free to carry out ' experiments of living' (Mill, 1978: 54) where men differed and acted differently without fear, and where they were free to choose unhindered, could individuality flourish. And, for Mill, individuality and progress were synonymous. He was of the opinion that it was only when people were obviously different could superior modes of living, values and behaviour could have been seen. His belief that diversity aided progress reminds me of Darwin's theory of evolution, where the strongest traits are carried on, while weaker, vulnerable characteristics die off. In a nutshell, Mill was convinced that the singularly most important benefit of liberty was the progress of humankind.Similar to Hobbes, Mill saw the necessity of imposing certain restraints on liberty, albeit in only specific circumstances where interference could be legitimately warranted. This single premise however, remains one of the few similarities between the two regarding liberalism. Hobbes' need derived from his perception of the state of nature where men couldn't be free because of their constant fear of death and fear of power from...

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