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On Liberty (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – June 19, 2002
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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 (1806 - 1873) was an English philosopher, political economist, feminist, and civil servant. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Milll's basic point is simple: people should be left free to think and do as they please unless what they are doing causes actual harm to others. Mill's essay is spent both giving reasons for this principle, and exlporing what the principle means in practice.
He offers a plurality of reasons for his libertarian ideas, some utilitarian in nature and some based on (what some might call) natural law. Not only does freedom of action and thought encourage innnovation, keep public discussion vigorous, and lead to a more effective social network than government incursion, but people just-plain prefer directing their own lives to being directed from outside.
Mill gets into sticky territory, however, when he talks about the libertarian principle in concrete terms, as his distinction between what is private and what is public is often less clear than he might want. Should persons be free to tell others to do harm to themselves? Yes. Should parents be free not to educate their children? No. Should "vice-merchants" like bars, gambling parlors, and pornographers be free to conduct business without heavy government regulation? No. Should people be free to marry a plurality of spouses? If mormon, yes. If British, no.
My biggest criticism - and a criticism offered in Richard Posner and Jeane Bethke Elshtain's essays - is that Mill is all over the map when his principle is "put to the real world" because the distinction between public and private is just-plain fuzzy. Another interesting criticism, brought up in Elshtain's essay, is that Mill demonstrates a very unjustified bias in favor of experiment over tradition (where the former seems always presumed inferior to the latter).
In short, I like Mill's essay but see it as an edifice built on not-quite-solid sand. Mill relies on seperate categories, public and private, that are just not clear and distinct enough to be distinct. (While Dewey may have gone too far in the "all acts are social" direction, I think Dewey hit closer to the truth.) This is why the six supplementary essays in this edition are a nice touch.