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On Liberty (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – June 19, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Discussed and debated from time immemorial, the concept of personal liberty went without codification until the 1859 publication of On Liberty. John Stuart Mill's complete and resolute dedication to the cause of freedom inspired this treatise, an enduring work through which the concept remains well known and studied.
The British economist, philosopher, and ethical theorist's argument does not focus on "the so-called Liberty of the Will…but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual." Mill asks and answers provocative questions relating to the boundaries of social authority and individual sovereignty. In powerful and persuasive prose, he declares that there is "one very simple principle" regarding the use of coercion in society—one may only coerce others either to defend oneself or to defend others from harm.
The new edition offers students of political science and philosophy, in an inexpensive volume, one of the most influential studies on the nature of individual liberty and its role in a democratic society.

About the Author

John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 8 May 1873) was a British philosopher, political economist and civil servant. He was an influential contributor to social theory, political theory and political economy. He has been called "the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century". Mill's conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. Mill expresses his view on freedom by illustrating how an individual's amelioration of personal quality and self-improvement is the sole source of true freedom. Only when an individual is able to attain such a beneficial standard of one's self, whilst in the absence of rendering external onerosity upon others, in their own journey to procure a higher calibre of self-worth, can true freedom prevail. Mill's attitude toward freedom and individual accomplishment through self-improvement has inspired many. By establishing an appreciable level of worthiness concerned with one's ability to fulfill personal standards of notability and merit, Mill was able to provide many with a principal example of how they should achieve such particular values. He was a proponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham. He worked on the theory of the scientific method. Mill was also a Member of Parliament and an important figure in liberal political philosophy. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Thrift Editions
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 2002 edition (June 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486421309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486421308
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.2 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 85 people found the following review helpful By B. Alcat on July 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was interested in the nature of Civil Liberty, and the limits to the power that a Government can legitimately exercise upon its citizens. He believed that some worrying tendencies could be observed in the England society of his time, and tried to warn others about them.
The author basically explains his ideas regarding the preservation of individual liberties, not only due to the fact that they are rights owed to everyone, but also because they benefit society as a whole.
For example, when he says that liberty of thought and of discussion must be preserved, he tells us that "Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but fact and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it". How can mistaken beliefs or actions be proven wrong, if dissent is forbidden?. The loss for society is clear: "If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error".
In order to preserve the liberties included in the concept of Civil Liberty, the author points out that there must be limits to the action of the Government. He says 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". Any other reason is simply not good enough. Thus, Stuart Mill highlights the rights of the individual, but also the limit to those rights: the well-being of others.
"On Liberty" is not too long, and I think you are highly likely to enjoy it, if you can get past the first few pages.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Len Hart on February 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
In his classic essay "On Liberty", John Stuart Mill deals with the issue of "civil liberties" -not the metaphysical issue of "free will". While most attacks on civil liberties have historically occurred from the right within the context of a tyrannical or an aristocratic rule, Mill deals with threats against liberty from within the institutions of democracy itself. The issue is especially relevant at a time when widespread domestic wiretapping and surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The aim of early libertarians was to limit the power of the ruler over those governed; Mill, however, identifies a need to limit the power of elected governments and officials as well. Mill is not merely addressing the issue of "who should rule?", he seeks to establish limits on the power that government may exercise over minorities and individuals. His work is more relevant now than ever.

While "government of the people" is an ideal to be aspired to, Mill argues that such an ideal is often not the case in fact. He argues that those exerting the power of the government -elected officials, bureaucrats, the judiciary -often develop their own interests. They are sometimes influenced by those constituencies in ways that are at odds with the interests and liberties of individuals or other groups.

Mill makes no distinction between a tyranny of one and a tyranny of many. A tyrannical majority running roughshod over the rights of individuals and minorities is no less a tyrant because it is a majority, because it is elected, or because it is elected by a majority.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve on February 28, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The terms 'liberal' and 'socialist' have undergone many changes in meaning over the past one and a half centuries. By the definitions of his own day, Mill was certainly the former and arguably the latter. By today's definitions, he would be neither. For his time, he was a remarkably progressive, even radical, thinker. He was, for example, an ardent advocate of women's rights. On the other hand, his paternalistic attitude toward developing societies is typical of his age.

The basic principles of both liberty and ethics that Mill propounds have been much criticized. It is easy to list exceptions, provisos and limitations to them, but they relate to extremely complex and intractable problems, and with such issues it is necessary to start with greatly simplified models, on which you can build. As first approximations, Mill's principles are actually quite good. That they are not the last words on the subjects should not distress us. Nothing ever will be. Only bigots arrive at final, absolute answers.

Mill's writing style oscillates between great (sometimes sublime) eloquence, and long, tortuous meanderings. He is often reluctant to finish a sentence and mortally afraid of relinquishing a paragraph. Some parts have to be carefully reread to make sense of all the subordinate clauses. But when he is good, he is very good. The section on free speech is classic.

For a contrasting contemporary view of social justice, the Communist Manifesto is useful. Like these two essays, it is relatively short and readable.

In Utilitarianism, Mill is building on the work of Jeremy Bentham, who in turn was part of a tradition that can be traced back to ancient Greece and the philosopher Epicurus.
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