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A struggle between freedom and power.

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Introduction

Throughout history, it has been widely acknowledged that there has been a struggle between freedom and power and undeniably, this debate continues well into the 21st century. John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty raises the point of whether in fact laws help to enforce liberty or whether in fact they act contrary to that objective by destroying it. Mill emphasises that the only purpose for power being rightfully exercised over any member of society, against his or her will, is to prevent harm to others. "the only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others" (Mill; 1989; pp 204). This fundamental concept is referred to as the 'Harm Principle'. The basic premise of Mill's 'Harm principle' is that a person should be able to make their own decisions and thus live with the respective consequences, but no one else should have to live with these consequences arising from that decision. "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" (Mill 1989). To attain liberty, Mill states that it is imperative to have a strong and varied set of laws. ...read more.

Middle

However, when a person is only hurting him or herself, Mill states that people can advise him or her to adopt "self-regarding virtues" (Mill; 1989) but ultimately, each person has the complete freedom to make their own decision. If a person does not adopt qualities that others feel are important for personal wellbeing, society cannot publicly denounce these actions and beliefs, although they can hold their own personal negative opinions, actively encouraged by Mill. These private opinions are what ultimately may hurt a person who is not pursuing what society perceives as his or her own best interests. This is referred to as a natural penalty for holding beliefs that may be contrary to the majority in a democratic society. In addition to that natural penalty, Mill states that when someone is harming themselves,, the only harmed person is the perpetrator who is, in effect, giving and receiving their own punishment. Mill does, however, imply the imperativeness of a clear and definitive distinction between where individual liberty takes precedence and where and when society has the right to intervene and throughout On Liberty, Mill refutes the notion that society is based upon a mutual contract but does however, agree with the fact that once an individual has entered into the greater society, an individual has a distinct obligation not violate others' rights, ...read more.

Conclusion

Interestingly, Mill makes note that individuals should be punished for their actions if they are seriously affecting others "No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, as long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual" (Mill, 1859, pp 201). Mill believes that society's judgements also provide punishment to offenders when they cannot be committed by law and actively encourages public scrutiny as part of the 'harm principle' which states clearly the fact that no society can function properly without such limitations in practice. The 'Harm Principle' sets out a number of interesting points pertaining to the achievement of individual freedom and right within the greater society. However, Mill states, in On Liberty that individual rights and freedoms can only be achieved when there are limits and constraints in place. Thus, Mill argues the importance of a range of strict guidelines which should be followed by everyone in society to prevent others from being affected by another human being's actions whilst at the same time still allowing personal autonomy. ...read more.

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