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Evaluate Mill's liberty principle. What does Mill mean by liberty? What other principles are important to Mill's argument?

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Evaluate Mill's liberty principle. What does Mill mean by liberty? What other principles are important to Mill's argument? John Stuart Mill was born in London in 1806, the son of the philosopher James Mill. James Mill was a close friend of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism (the theory that states that the right course of action is the course which generates the most happiness). Bentham and James Mill educated J. S. Mill rigorously, to such an extent that he began reading Ancient Greek at age 3. He was reading Plato's Dialogues at age 13 - in their original form. His father trained him in political economy, philosophy, the classics and many other intellectual subject areas. Mill was an active philosopher. He was a member of the philosophical radicals (a group of utilitarian philosophers) and worked for the East India Company. But his education took its toll. At the age of 21, J. S. Mill had a mental breakdown. His father and Bentham had educated him to be the perfect utilitarian - i.e. the perfect rational being, but Mill began to develop his own emotions and his own opinions. He felt that his "habit of analysis" had destroyed all his capacity for emotion - he had no spontaneous and natural feeling. When this period of depression was over, Mill entered a new era, which produced his book On Liberty. ...read more.


It could be said that Mill is being ethnocentric with his idea that the modern Western world is civilised, yet countries like India are not. Mill could be described as a "modernist" philosopher because he believes different cultures are less advanced than ours. However, Mill does value difference for its own sake, much like "postmodernist" philosophers. The final aspect of the LP is the utility principle (UP). The UP states that utility is the "ultimate appeal on all ethical questions"; therefore the greatest happiness for the greatest number can override liberty as long as it is in "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being". For Mill, utility is human progress and the advancement of political and moral thought. This is more important than liberty because it will ultimately benefit society. Some thinkers however have accused Mill of jumping from utility to liberty and back whenever it suits his argument. Although the LP in theory is an important part of Mill's argument, he also tries to ground the idea of liberty in an historical context. Mill sees history not just as past events, but part of an overall scheme of events that lead to an ultimate goal. The present is just a phase of this overall scheme. This is similar to Marx's approach, and could be said to be a teleological view of history. ...read more.


3 The original idea of the dialectic came from Socrates, who's arguing style involved finding an opposing argument to everything. He saw a thesis, and found an antithesis. The thesis and antithesis collided, and eventually the best parts of both were fused to create a synthesis. This then became a new thesis to be attacked. This dialectical approach is praised by Mill who believes that society progresses because of opposing ideas struggling together and eventually the best coming out, which is why he champions free speech (so that all sides of an argument can be heard) but it got Socrates put to death in his day. Marx's approach is dialectical. He claims that there are "stages" of history where there have been two classes - one class with more power than the other. In each stage there has been a struggle between each class, and the ruling class is eventually overthrown by the lower class. The lower class then become the ruling class, and history progresses into the next stage. This is dialectical because it shows how two opposing sides collide and allow history to progress. 4 It is interesting to note that Marx's communist vision of the future has never actually materialised. There have been attempts (Soviet Russia and China) but they have been based on revised Marxist ideas and never the actually ideas of Marx himself. According to Mill, Marx is not infallible and so made a mistake is forming a definite theory for the future. ...read more.

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