On Liberty: A World For The People
Liberty is recognized by humans as their freedom from someone else’s control depending on a certain circumstance or necessity, which allows them to act how they please with the ultimate goal of progressing together as a society and avoid stagnation. This idea was promoted by British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, in his essay, On Liberty, written in 1859. Mill is popularly known as one of the most influential thinkers of his time for his utilitarian approach to classical liberalism, which he described in his essay as a person’s freedom in opposition to unlimited state and social control. Mill believed that each individual has the right to act how he or she wants, as long as these actions do not harm others. This utilitarian approach to liberty is useful in today’s society, as it allows people to grow and develop in different aspects of life, promotes social wellness and would also eradicate today’s ‘canceled’ society.
Mill explains his argument through five chapters, where he uses influence from utilitarianism to defend his concept of social liberty. Utilitarianism is a theory which promotes actions aimed to achieve human happiness. Utilitarians believe actions to be either right or wrong, depending on its outcome. An action is considered to be right if it is regularly done to promote happiness, and wrong if it is regularly done to promote the reverse of happiness, which does not only refer to the happiness of the performer of the action, but also that of everyone affected by it.
To begin the essay, Mill highlights the fact that On Liberty was written to explain his concept of civil or social liberty, and not what he calls the ‘liberty of the will’. This idea of civil or social liberty is described as “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual” (Mill 1). Throughout the paper, Mill rejects limiting or removing people’s freedom of speech, arguing that this should only happen when its use causes harm to other people. Otherwise, humans should be able to share their personal opinions and act how they please within society. Mill believes that removing a person’s freedom of speech is ‘evil’, as doing so takes away people’s ability to learn from other opinions. He states that even wrong opinions should be heard, as they allow people to understand their own opinions better (14). Mill does not only value people’s liberty of opinion, but also their liberty of action. Just like with freedom of speech, Mill believes that a person should be able to live a way of life that best suits his or her needs, if this does not affect anybody else. Mill’s argument depends on the assumption of infallibility, which is the usefulness of an opinion.
In his first chapter, Mill introduces his argument in support of social liberty to the extent that it does not harm anyone else, and briefly explains what liberty means. In chapters two and three, Mill explains the value of a person’s liberty of opinion and action. During the fourth chapter of the essay, Mill discusses how much authority a society should have over an individual, and lastly, in chapter five, he examines examples of his theory in order to evaluate his statements made throughout the paper.
Mill’s theory allows people to grow and develop in different aspects of life. Despite being written two centuries ago, Mill’s defence of freedom of speech gives people the opportunity to learn from different opinions, regardless of them being right or wrong. Mill explained that removing a person’s freedom of speech whose opinion is right, makes people “deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth”. However, if a person’s opinion is wrong but their freedom of speech remains, then people get a “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error” (14). Mill’s rejection to remove people’s freedom of speech is done for the common good of society, as it allows people to learn from what others have to say regardless of it being offensive or erroneous. Mill’s theory also rejects the exercise of absolute power, as this destroys human individuality. Mill stated that, “whatever crushes individuality is despotism” (53). Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. Despotic governments are historically recognized for being oppressive of their people, with Kim Jong-un, current leader of North Korea, or Idi Amin, former president of Uganda known for his ruthless eight-year regime where an estimated 300,000 civilians were massacred (history. com) as some recent examples. Mill believes that governments of this kind crush a person’s individuality, and therefore opposes to their system as they do not allow its people to act freely. Mill’s theory is useful in today’s society as it allows people to learn from different opinions and also rejects the destruction of human individuality, which contributes to people’s growth and development in different aspects of life.
Mill’s defence of liberty promotes social wellness. Mill believes that humans need to learn from different opinions in order to master a subject. Mill said that the only way for humans to know “the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion” (Mill 17). Mill stated that a person needs to hear what every variety of opinions can say about a topic in order to fully understand it, highlighting the importance of freedom of speech in a society. As mentioned previously, Mill believes that freedom of speech gives people the opportunity to learn from different opinions, which means that people need liberty of opinion to remain for their own good, as it allows them to master different subjects. Furthermore, Mill believes that people should pursue good however they prefer, as long as they do not prevent others from doing the same. Mill said that, “the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it” (10). Mill strongly believes that people should be able to do what is good for them, as long as this does not take away other people’s ability to do the same. This ideology promotes social wellness, as it allows others to be happy without interrupting the happiness of others. Lastly, Mill believes that citizens should cooperate with each other in order to improve themselves. Mill states that, “human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse” (64). Mill is stating that human beings must help each other to distinguish good from evil, which contributes to the progression of a society as it allows citizens to determine what is right and wrong by themselves. Therefore, Mill’s firm stance by liberty promotes social wellness, as it allows people to expand their knowledge on different topics and promotes people’s happiness and social progression.
Mill’s freedom of speech policy would also eradicate the internet’s controversial ‘canceled’ society. Being ‘canceled’ refers to a “total disinvestment” in someone, usually being a celebrity, due to a certain comment or action done by them in the past which is no longer considered acceptable under the perspective of today’s society (Bromwich). A wide variety of celebrities are being ‘canceled’ by groups of people on the internet nowadays, starting from Kanye West to Bill Gates, due these online communities disagreeing with something that was said by the celebrity. This ultimately leads the famous person on the spot to receive hate online for their opinions. This concept of ‘canceling’ people is mostly conceptual or socially performative, and in reality borderline useless. For example, Kanye West, was canceled for suggesting that slavery was a choice and still had his album ye chart first on Billboard chart upon its release, just months after his cancellation (Bromwich). These new internet antics are seen as a way to silence these people and usually fail to have a direct impact in the celebrity’s career as seen in Kanye’s case. Instead, they simply promote hate towards the person on the spot for having an unpopular or incorrect opinion. This new internet culture would be eradicated if Mill’s theory was used today, as it goes against his belief that nobody’s opinion should be silenced as they provide people something they can learn from, even if the opinion is wrong.
I agree with Mill’s utilitarian approach on liberty because it is useful in today’s society, as it allows people to grow and develop in different aspects of life, promotes social wellness and also would eradicate today’s ‘canceled’ society, which promotes hate online and has proven to be useless.
- Bromwich, Jonah Engel. “Everyone Is Canceled. ” The New York Times, The New York
- Times, 28 June 2018, https://www. nytimes. com/2018/06/28/style/is-it-canceled. html.
- History. com Editors. “Idi Amin. ” History. com, A&E Television Networks, 16 Dec. 2009,
- www. history. com/topics/africa/idi-amin.
- Mil, John Stuart. On Liberty. Dover Publications, 2002.
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