Context

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John Stuart Mill thought long and hard about the theoretical and practical problems connected with liberal democratic government. Actual service in the British Parliament brought him into intimate contact with applied politics. Beneath the surface of nineteenth century British political experience, Mill came upon the one problem he considered central to everyone’s long-range interests. The clarity with which he stated this problem in On Liberty earned him a justified reputation as defender of the basic principles of liberalism. “The struggle between Liberty and Authority,” he wrote, “is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England.” The individual’s relation to the organized power of state and popular culture requires that people draw the line between what in principle rightly belongs to each. The liberal task concerns how people are to meet the necessary demands of organized life without destroying the rights of the individual.

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Mill mentions two ways in which people gradually subdued sovereign power after long and difficult struggles. First, select groups within a given political domain worked to compel the rulers to grant them special immunities. Second (and historically a later phenomenon), people managed to win constitutionally guaranteed rights through some political body which represented them. These historical tendencies limited the tyrannical aspects of sovereign power without raising questions about the inherited right of the sovereign to rule.

Guarding the Individual’s Rights

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A later European development involved the replacement of inherited rulers by people elected for periodic terms of governing. This was the aim of popular parties in modern European affairs, according to Mill. People who once wanted to limit governmental powers when such government rested on unrepresentative principles began to put less stress on the need of limitation once government received its justification by popular support—for example, through elections. “Their power was but the nation’s own power, concentrated, and in a form convenient for exercise.” However, Mill criticizes European liberalism for failing to understand that popularly supported governments may also introduce forms of tyranny. Mill’s essay refers to this phenomenon as “the tyranny of the majority.” Earlier thinkers asked who could protect people from the tyranny of an inherited rule, but modern Europeans asked who would protect people from the tyranny of custom. The individual citizen’s independence is threatened in either instance. Individuals need protection from arbitrary rulers and also from “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling.” Even a democratic society can coerce its dissenters to conform to ideals and rules of conduct in areas that should belong solely to the individual’s decisions.

The chief concern of modern politics, then, is to protect the individual’s rights from governmental and social coercion. Mill argues that the practical issue is even narrower—”where to place the limit,” which liberal minds agree is needed. Mill understands that organized life would be impossible without some firm rules. People can never choose to live in a ruleless situation. “All that makes existence valuable to anyone, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people.” However, the question is which rules are to prevail. Satisfactory answers remain to be realized. Existing rules, which vary from one culture and historical epoch to another, tend to become coated in the clothing of apparent respect through force of custom; they come to seem self-evident to their communities. People forget that custom is the deposit of learned ways of acting. Few realize that existing rules require support by the giving of reasons, and that such reasons may be good or bad. Powerful interest groups tend to shape the prevailing morality in class terms. People also often act servilely toward the rules created by their masters.

Mill credits minority and religious groups, especially Protestant ones, with having altered customs by their once heretical resistance to custom. However, creative groups out of step with prevailing modes of action and thought often sought specific changes without challenging in principle the existing rules of conduct. Even heretics sometimes adopted a bigoted posture toward other theological beliefs. As a result, many religious minorities could simply plead for “permission to differ.” Mill concludes that religious tolerance usually triumphed only where religious indifference also existed side by side with diversified bodies of religious opinion.

Expression of Opinion

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The first argument against repression of open expression of opinion is that the repressed opinion may be true. Those who silence opinion must act on the dogmatic assumption that their own viewpoint is infallible. However, if a given opinion happens to be true, people can never exchange error for its truth as long as discussion is curtailed. On the other hand, if the controversial opinion is false, by silencing discussion of it, people prevent more lively truths in existence from gaining by the healthy collision with error. No government or social group should be permitted to claim infallibility for the limited perspective that any given group must inevitably hold toward events. “The power itself is illegitimate,” Mill argues, insisting that “the best government has no more title to it than the worst.”

Mill lists a number of possible objections to his first argument in defense of free discussion: One should not permit false doctrines to be proclaimed; people should never allow discussion to be pushed to an extreme; persecution of opinion is good in that truth will ultimately win out; and only bad individuals would seek to weaken existing beliefs that are useful. None of these objections proves persuasive to Mill. He answers by asserting: A difference exists between establishing a truth in the face of repeated challenges that fail to refute it and assuming a truth to prevent its possible refutation; open discussion holds significance only if it applies to extreme cases; many historical instances show that coercive error can interfere with the spread of true opinions; and, finally, the truth of an opinion is a necessary aspect of its utility. Mill reminds people how very learned persons joined with those who persecuted Socrates and Jesus for holding opinions that later won many adherents. Such persecution often involves the bigoted use of economic reprisals, about which Mill says: “Men might as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread.”

Mill’s second argument for open discussion concerns the value it holds for keeping established truths and doctrines alive. Such discussion challenges people to know the reasons for their beliefs—a practice that forms the primary basis of genuine education. Without challenge, even accepted religious doctrines become lifeless, as do ethical codes. Discussion of false opinions forces those holding existing truths to know why they hold the opinions they do. Mill points out that even in the natural sciences, there are instances when alternative hypotheses are possible. Experience indicates that in religious and moral matters, one should expect a great range of viewpoints. Organized intolerance of opinions that conflict with the official views kills “the moral courage of the human mind.” Mill agrees with the critics who assert that not all people can hope to understand the reasons for their received opinions, but he reminds the critics that their own point involves the assumption that someone is an authority regarding those reasons. Consolidation of opinion requires open discussion. Mill’s judgment is that with no enemy at hand, “both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post.”

The third argument for free discussion rests on the possibility that competing views may share the truth between them. Even heretical opinions may form a portion of the truth. To the objection that some opinions, such as those associated with Christian morality, are more than half-truths, Mill replies by stating that this morality never posed originally as a complete system. Christian morality constituted more a reaction against an existing pagan culture than a positive ethical doctrine. People’s notions of obligation to the public stem from Greek and Roman influences rather than from the teachings of the New Testament, which stress obedience, passivity, innocence, and abstinence from evil. Mill’s conclusion is that the clash of opinions, some of which turn out to be errors, proves helpful to the discovery of truth.

The question about how freely people may act is more difficult. Mill agrees with those who insist that actions can never be as free as opinions. Actions always involve consequences whose possible harm to others must receive serious consideration. People need long training in disciplined living to achieve the maturity required for a responsible exercise of their judgmental capacities. Yet individuality constitutes an inescapable element in the end of all human action, which is happiness. For this reason, people must not permit others to decide all issues for them. The reasons are that others’ experience may prove too narrow or perhaps it may involve wrongful interpretations; alternatively, it may prove correct and yet unsuited to a given individual’s temperament. It may also become so customary that people’s passive acceptance of the experience retards their development of numerous unique human qualities. The person who always acquiesces in others’ ways of doing things “has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation.”

Curbs on Individuality

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What concerns Mill is that society shows a threatening tendency to curb individuality. The pressures of social opinion lead to a deficiency of individual impulses, a narrowing of the range of human preferences, and a decline in spontaneity. At this point, Mill, who usually speaks favorably of Protestant resistance to earlier orthodox doctrines, singles out Calvinism for harsh criticism. Modern society evinces dangerous secular expressions of the earlier Calvinist insistence that people perform God’s will. The emphasis was on strict obedience. So narrow a theory of human performance inevitably pinches human character. As an ethical teleologist and a utilitarian, Mill holds that the value of human action must be determined by its tendency to produce human self-realization. Obedience can never be an adequate end of human character.

Mill insists that democratic views tend to produce some conditions that encourage the loss of individuality. A tendency exists “to render mediocrity the ascendent power among mankind.” Political democracy often results in mass thinking. To protect human individuality, people must show a great suspicion of averages, for the conditions of spiritual development vary from person to person. In fact, Mill argues that democracy needs an aristocracy of learned and dedicated people who can guide its development along progressive paths. What Mill calls “the progressive principle” is always antagonistic to the coercive stance of customary modes of thinking and acting. Such a principle operates only in contexts that permit diversity of human types and a variety of situations. Mill laments that the latter condition seemed on the wane in nineteenth century England. He suggests, also, that the slow disappearance of classes has a causal relation to the growing uniformity in English society. His general conclusion, expressed as a warning, is that the individual increasingly feels the compulsions of social rather than governmental coercion.

Societal Interventions

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To what extent may society influence the individual? Mill asserts that society can restrain people from doing damage to others’ interests as well as require people to share the burdens of common defense and of protection of their fellows’ rights. Society may rightfully establish rules that create obligations for its members insofar as they form a community of interests. Education aims at developing self-regarding virtues in individuals. Individuals who are persistently rash, obstinate, immoderate in behavior, and filled with self-conceit may even be subject to society’s disapprobation. However, society must not punish a person by legal means if the individual acts in disapproved ways regarding what that person thinks to be in his or her own good. “It makes a vast difference both in our feelings and in our conduct toward him,” Mill warns, “whether he displeases us in things in which we think we have a right to control him, or in things in which we know that we have not.” Mill rejects the argument that no feature of a person’s conduct may fall outside the area of society’s jurisdiction. A person has the right to make personal mistakes. Finally, Mill argues that society will tend to interfere in a person’s private actions in a wrong manner and for the wrong reasons. Religious, socialistic, and other forms of social censorship prove unable to develop adequate self-restraints. A full-blown social censorship leads, in time, to the very decline of a civilization.

Mill concludes his work by pointing out the circumstances under which a society can with justification interfere in areas of common concern. Trade involves social aspects and can be restrained when it is harmful. Crime must be prevented whenever possible. There are offenses against decency that should be curbed, and solicitation of others to do acts harmful to themselves bears watching. Mill writes: “Fornication, for example, must be tolerated, and so must gambling; but should a person be free to be a pimp, or to keep a gambling-house?” The state may establish restrictions of such activities, according to Mill. Finally, Mill argues that the state should accept the duty of requiring a sound education for each individual.

On Liberty

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Mill’s object in writing this essay was to assert the principles that should govern the relationship between individuals and the collective authority of church and state. Following the utilitarian maxim that a good society is one where the greatest number of persons enjoy the greatest amount of happiness, Mill sought to ensure that individuals would be able to think and act freely, thus creating the maximum of happiness.

Mill bases his argument for the usefulness of airing all points of view on three premises. First, an opinion that is suppressed can turn out to be valid, as in the case of the teachings of Socrates and Christ. Secondly, even if an opinion is false, its discussion will cause us to test the validity of our own opinion and thus strengthen it. Finally, a counter opinion may contain part of the truth because the truth is complex and often lies between two opinions.

Mill, however, advocates more than simply a free exchange of ideas. He maintains that an individual should be permitted to act as he pleases in order to pursue the fullest self-development. He does not, however, defend irresponsibility; a person is free to act as he pleases only in matters that affect him alone. The state has the right to intervene in cases where individual conduct does harm to others.

Mill’s ON LIBERTY stands with Milton’s AREOPAGITICA as one of the classic statements in English literature on the issue of freedom of expression. The present-day relevance of Mill’s protest against the interference of groups and governments in the affairs of individuals is a testament to the acuity of his ideas.

Additional Reading

Berger, Fred R. Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. A thorough evaluation of the moral and political contributions and implications of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism.

Berlin, Isaiah. Four Essays on Liberty. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. Essays on some of the issues raised by Mill in his On Liberty.

Brady, Alexander. Introduction and textual introduction to On Liberty. Vol. 18 in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1977. Substantial historical and critical introductions to the definitive edition of Mill’s works. Contains details of textual variants and extensive annotations.

Carlisle, Janice. John Stuart Mill and the Writing of Character. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. A study of Mill’s life and thought in relation to ideas of virtue and character.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Several chapters in this standard history of philosophy focus in lucid ways on utilitarianism and Mill’s philosophy in particular.

Cowling, Maurice. Mill and Liberalism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963. Contains the most extended modern criticism of Mill, who is accused of “more than a touch of something resembling moral totalitarianism.” On Liberty, he argues, is a selective defense of the individuality of the elevated.

Crisp, Roger, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. New York: Routledge, 1997. Helpful articles clarify Mill’s understanding of utilitarian philosophy.

Donner, Wendy. The Liberal Self: John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. A carefully developed interpretation of the basic themes and arguments in Mill’s political philosophy and ethics.

Dworkin, Gerald, ed. Mill’s “On Liberty”: Critical Essays. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. Noted Mill scholars address the perspectives, problems, and prospects contained in Mill’s famous study of liberty.

Gray, John. Mill on Liberty: A Defence. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. A spirited defense of Mill’s consistency in promoting the right of liberty from a utilitarian point of view. Considers On Liberty the most important of philosophical arguments about liberty, utility, and rights.

Lyons, David. Rights, Welfare, and Mill’s Moral Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Interprets how Mill understood human rights and responsible public policy within the framework of his utilitarianism.

Mazlish, Bruce. James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Basic Books, 1975. A thorough discussion of the entangled personalities and ideas of the two Mills.

Rees, John Collwyn. John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” Edited by G. L. Williams. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1985. A valuable blend of historical, philosophical, and textual analysis. Deals substantially with the criticisms of Cowling and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s On Liberty and Liberalism (1974).

Riley, Jonathan. Liberal Utilitarianism: Social Choice Theory and John Stuart Mill’s Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. A thoughtful discussion of Mill’s philosophy and its relationship to contemporary political and economic policy.

Robson, John. The Improvement of Mankind. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968. A clearly written and helpful examination of Mill’s social and political thought.

Ryan, Alan. J. S. Mill. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974. Focuses on Mill’s major works and relates them to the issues of his time.

Schneewind, Jerome B., ed. Mill: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958. A good collection of articles by various authorities on many aspects of Mill’s philosophy.

Skompski, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mill. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Important essayists update the scholarship on Mill’s writings and the wide variety of themes that they contain.

Stephen, James Fitzjames. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. 1873. Reprint. Edited by Stuart D. Warner. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1993. The most sustained and trenchant early attack, by an eminent jurist who agreed with Mill that the “minority are wise and the majority foolish,” while dissenting from Mill’s view that the wise minority has no right to coerce the masses.

Paul Marx John K. Roth

On Liberty

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The Work

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill provided a powerful defense of individual freedom of thought and action. Mill’s ideas have been a source of inspiration for those concerned with civil liberty and individual freedom for more than one hundred years, but his assertions in this volume were not in accord with the rest of his substantial body of work. The popularity of On Liberty was the result of a combination of Mill’s substantial reputation and the work’s contents, which, while popular with the general reader, have been frequently criticized by professional scholars and reviewers.

Biographical Background

John Stuart Mill was the son of Scottish philosopher James Mill, who, under the influence of Jeremy Bentham, reared the boy to be a prodigy. At the age of three, the young Mill was studying Greek, and throughout his youth, childish pleasures were denied him in favor of intellectual activities. At twenty, he fell into clinical depression, apparently caused by the lack of emotional support in his upbringing, but he recovered and ultimately had a successful career as a bureaucrat in the India Office and as a philosopher. Among his important works are System of Logic (1843), Principles of Political Economy (1848), and The Subjection of Women (1869). In 1830 he met Harriet Taylor. They conducted an intense though, according to themselves, chaste courtship until 1851, when, Taylor’s husband being two years dead, they married. Harriet Taylor proved to be an important influence on Mill’s thought. It was thanks to his wife that Mill came to regard “the woman question”—that is, women’s social, political, and economic equality—as one of the most important issues of the mid-nineteenth century. This attitude appears to have been decisive in the development of On Liberty (1859), Mill’s most popular work.

On Liberty

Mill opened his consideration of the question of liberty by asserting that he was making one simple, straightforward proposition: Society had no warrant by legal sanction or moral suasion to limit the individual’s freedom of thought or action for any reason except to prevent harm to another person or property. Even should an action be clearly shown to be harmful to the individual, Mill insisted, any restriction other than fair warning was wrong.

In the realm of ideas, Mill believed that free discussion was necessary if the truth was to be determined. To deny any idea currency was to deny the possibility, however faint, that it might be true and to deny it the opportunity of challenging other ideas to test their truthfulness. To set standards of logic or taste or scholarship or of any kind was to set up a censor. Who was to set the standard and enforce it? One of Mill’s great fears was that the community might attempt to do so, thus establishing a tyranny of the majority.

While certainly extreme, Mill’s position concerning freedom of expression was far from unprecedented, though he did not take the case so far in any of his other writings. His argument that action too should be unfettered as long as it posed no threat to anyone but the actor, however, was quite unusual. In On Liberty, it is clear, though not really explicit, that Mill was concerned much more with physical and material harm than with moral or spiritual harm when he asserted that society might restrain the individual from harming others. As truth emerged from the forum of free debate, the development of truly individualistic character in a person arose from the process of choosing types of conduct. For many of Mill’s contemporaries, this was little more than advocacy of anarchy. Within the liberal tradition, freedom of action was regarded as good but not without limits. Free speech would lead to changes in those limits (laws, custom, and so forth) so that acceptable behaviors might be enlarged. Mill’s emphasis on diversity and individual, unfettered, development was one of his significant contributions to liberalism.

The absolute nature of Mill’s view of liberty left him with a number of difficult questions to confront. For example, what about indirect harm such as that caused by a drunk to his or her dependents? Does experience ever establish a moral truth so clearly that society should insist that it be observed? Mill insisted that beyond teaching rationality to children (the principle of liberty did not apply until an individual reached maturity), society had no right to require a standard of conduct. When society tried to do so, it usually simply insisted on the standard of the majority. Unfortunately, the examples provided in On Liberty tend to be issues such as religious beliefs, which had already been largely agreed upon as inappropriate for society to impose.

Another problem for Mill was the source of individual morality. He had long since rejected the possibility that mankind’s moral sense was intuitive or innate. In the end, he asserted that moral sense was “natural” in that it was a “natural outgrowth” of human nature. Although this conclusion was not very satisfactory, Mill went further with the question.

Not only did the ideas in On Liberty not coincide with those contained in Mill’s other work, but there were two issues that Mill was unwilling to leave to the workings of the principle of liberty: education and population control. He was willing to insist that parents be required to educate their children and that the growth of population be restrained. These matters were too critical for the welfare of humankind to be left to be developed, like truth, from debate; therefore, the state should intervene. This lack of consistency within his complete oeuvre and even within On Liberty itself seems to have been a result of the influence of Harriet Taylor Mill. Not only was she more inclined toward single-issue, simplistic thought than was Mill, but she also pressed Mill to pursue the issue of women’s equality ever more vigorously. On Liberty reads as if it came from an extremely repressive society, but aside from what was called the “woman question,” nineteenth century England was not such a society. Part of the purpose of On Liberty seems to have been to universalize the issue of feminine equality so that men had a stake in it and would take it seriously. This purpose apparently led Mill into a position more extreme than the one that he generally took.

Implications for Ethical Conduct

Mill’s established reputation meant that On Liberty had an immediate and large audience. Although many reviewers and scholars took issue with some of its ideas, the book was enormously popular with undergraduates and the general reading public. Not only did it broaden the liberal attitude about freedom of speech, but it also led to a much greater support for freedom of action. Its influence continues to be strong in the late twentieth century.

Additional Reading

Berger, Fred R. Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. A thorough evaluation of the moral and political contributions and implications of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism.

Berlin, Isaiah. Four Essays on Liberty. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. Essays on some of the issues raised by Mill in his On Liberty.

Brady, Alexander. Introduction and textual introduction to On Liberty. Vol. 18 in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1977. Substantial historical and critical introductions to the definitive edition of Mill’s works. Contains details of textual variants and extensive annotations.

Carlisle, Janice. John Stuart Mill and the Writing of Character. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. A study of Mill’s life and thought in relation to ideas of virtue and character.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Several chapters in this standard history of philosophy focus in lucid ways on utilitarianism and Mill’s philosophy in particular.

Cowling, Maurice. Mill and Liberalism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963. Contains the most extended modern criticism of Mill, who is accused of “more than a touch of something resembling moral totalitarianism.” On Liberty, he argues, is a selective defense of the individuality of the elevated.

Crisp, Roger, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. New York: Routledge, 1997. Helpful articles clarify Mill’s understanding of utilitarian philosophy.

Donner, Wendy. The Liberal Self: John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. A carefully developed interpretation of the basic themes and arguments in Mill’s political philosophy and ethics.

Dworkin, Gerald, ed. Mill’s “On Liberty”: Critical Essays. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. Noted Mill scholars address the perspectives, problems, and prospects contained in Mill’s famous study of liberty.

Gray, John. Mill on Liberty: A Defence. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. A spirited defense of Mill’s consistency in promoting the right of liberty from a utilitarian point of view. Considers On Liberty the most important of philosophical arguments about liberty, utility, and rights.

Lyons, David. Rights, Welfare, and Mill’s Moral Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Interprets how Mill understood human rights and responsible public policy within the framework of his utilitarianism.

Mazlish, Bruce. James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Basic Books, 1975. A thorough discussion of the entangled personalities and ideas of the two Mills.

Rees, John Collwyn. John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” Edited by G. L. Williams. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1985. A valuable blend of historical, philosophical, and textual analysis. Deals substantially with the criticisms of Cowling and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s On Liberty and Liberalism (1974).

Riley, Jonathan. Liberal Utilitarianism: Social Choice Theory and John Stuart Mill’s Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. A thoughtful discussion of Mill’s philosophy and its relationship to contemporary political and economic policy.

Robson, John. The Improvement of Mankind. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968. A clearly written and helpful examination of Mill’s social and political thought.

Ryan, Alan. J. S. Mill. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974. Focuses on Mill’s major works and relates them to the issues of his time.

Schneewind, Jerome B., ed. Mill: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958. A good collection of articles by various authorities on many aspects of Mill’s philosophy.

Skompski, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mill. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Important essayists update the scholarship on Mill’s writings and the wide variety of themes that they contain.

Stephen, James Fitzjames. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. 1873. Reprint. Edited by Stuart D. Warner. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1993. The most sustained and trenchant early attack, by an eminent jurist who agreed with Mill that the “minority are wise and the majority foolish,” while dissenting from Mill’s view that the wise minority has no right to coerce the masses.

Paul Marx John K. Roth

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655

Additional Reading

Berger, Fred R. Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. A thorough evaluation of the moral and political contributions and implications of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism.

Berlin, Isaiah. Four Essays on Liberty. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. Essays on some of the issues raised by Mill in his On Liberty.

Brady, Alexander. Introduction and textual introduction to On Liberty. Vol. 18 in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1977. Substantial historical and critical introductions to the definitive edition of Mill’s works. Contains details of textual variants and extensive annotations.

Carlisle, Janice. John Stuart Mill and the Writing of Character. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. A study of Mill’s life and thought in relation to ideas of virtue and character.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Several chapters in this standard history of philosophy focus in lucid ways on utilitarianism and Mill’s philosophy in particular.

Cowling, Maurice. Mill and Liberalism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963. Contains the most extended modern criticism of Mill, who is accused of “more than a touch of something resembling moral totalitarianism.” On Liberty, he argues, is a selective defense of the individuality of the elevated.

Crisp, Roger, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. New York: Routledge, 1997. Helpful articles clarify Mill’s understanding of utilitarian philosophy.

Donner, Wendy. The Liberal Self: John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. A carefully developed interpretation of the basic themes and arguments in Mill’s political philosophy and ethics.

Dworkin, Gerald, ed. Mill’s “On Liberty”: Critical Essays. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. Noted Mill scholars address the perspectives, problems, and prospects contained in Mill’s famous study of liberty.

Gray, John. Mill on Liberty: A Defence. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. A spirited defense of Mill’s consistency in promoting the right of liberty from a utilitarian point of view. Considers On Liberty the most important of philosophical arguments about liberty, utility, and rights.

Lyons, David. Rights, Welfare, and Mill’s Moral Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Interprets how Mill understood human rights and responsible public policy within the framework of his utilitarianism.

Mazlish, Bruce. James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Basic Books, 1975. A thorough discussion of the entangled personalities and ideas of the two Mills.

Rees, John Collwyn. John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” Edited by G. L. Williams. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1985. A valuable blend of historical, philosophical, and textual analysis. Deals substantially with the criticisms of Cowling and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s On Liberty and Liberalism (1974).

Riley, Jonathan. Liberal Utilitarianism: Social Choice Theory and John Stuart Mill’s Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. A thoughtful discussion of Mill’s philosophy and its relationship to contemporary political and economic policy.

Robson, John. The Improvement of Mankind. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968. A clearly written and helpful examination of Mill’s social and political thought.

Ryan, Alan. J. S. Mill. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974. Focuses on Mill’s major works and relates them to the issues of his time.

Schneewind, Jerome B., ed. Mill: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958. A good collection of articles by various authorities on many aspects of Mill’s philosophy.

Skompski, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mill. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Important essayists update the scholarship on Mill’s writings and the wide variety of themes that they contain.

Stephen, James Fitzjames. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. 1873. Reprint. Edited by Stuart D. Warner. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1993. The most sustained and trenchant early attack, by an eminent jurist who agreed with Mill that the “minority are wise and the majority foolish,” while dissenting from Mill’s view that the wise minority has no right to coerce the masses.

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