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On Liberty Essay

1367 words - 6 pages

On John Stuart Mill’s production On Liberty has not only became one of the most widely known political and philosophical writing, but also produces one of the fundamental political questions on finding the balance in between liberty, democracy and authority. Although Mill’s writing was deeply influenced by Bentham’s Utilitarianism philosophy, Mill’s theory in On Liberty emphasized more around the value of individuality, equality and liberty (Donner, 1991; Skorupski, 1998). All three elements focused on by Mill, are closely connected in democratic society, Mill’s major fear was the emergence of dictatorship based on majoritarian and conformist behavior within a society (Skorupski, 2006). This ...view middle of the document...

Having discussed about the meaning of liberty and authority, we should explain Mill’s idea on the Harm Principle, thus he stated “the only legitimate ground for social coercion is to prevent harm to others.” This idea could also be found in the French Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man - 1789 that stated:
“Political Liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another. Thus the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no other limits than those which are necessary to secure to every other member of society enjoyment of the same rights.” (1789)
As we can understand from that above, is that Mill suggested a state would only have the rights to interfere with people’s freedom when one is harming the others, in other words a states should prevent one from harming another. It is clear to say that the Harm Principle seems to be a rather wide and ambiguous concept, as we understand that there could be two types of harm: the physical harm and the offensive harm. Mill however focuses his discussions predominantly on physical harm and narrows it down into two genuine actions, the self-regarding action and the other-regarding action. The former means those actions that only affect self, i.e. a state should not interfere with such freedom. The latter is concerned with actions affect others physically, where a state ought to protect its citizen by interfering individuals’ liberty. As shown above, there are still issues and grey area between the two genuine actions that scholars are still arguing over today.
Under those circumstances, various of scholars attempted to illustrate the Harm Principle. John Gary (1983: p50) stated: “The boundaries of the self-regarding domain will be determined by the currently dominant conception of interests, and the liberty principle will expand freedom only in so far as legal limitations on liberty lag behind changing conceptions of human interests.” John Rees (1960: p94) thus added on his point on harm stating: “when a person can be thought to have interests he is thereby possessed of right.” Truly, Rees and Gary here were both trying to explain the close relationship between rights and interests. Further, Feinberg (1977) illustrates the connection between self-interested, selfish, unselfish, and disinterested acts shown in figure 1 below:
Figure 1: J. Feinberg (1977) illustration on the relation between self-interested, selfish, unselfish, and disinterested acts.
Figure 1: J. Feinberg (1977) illustration on the relation between self-interested, selfish, unselfish, and disinterested acts.

Nevertheless, there are several arguments regarding the definition of self-regarding action and other-regarding action. An example in modern society today could be the banning of drug use. As in most countries, drug use is forbidden by legislation, but one could argue that whether the use of drug is self-regarding action or other regarding action. To be fair, the use of drugs could really be a...

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