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Post Comment and question about Mill's defense of liberty and individuality References: Lesson 5.1: Read Mill, On Liberty, chps. 1 & 2 (Cahn, 958-85) Lesson 5.2: Read Mill, On Liberty, chps 3 (Cahn, 985-95) Lesson 5.3: Read Mill, On Liberty, chp. 4 (Cahn, 995-1005) Lecture 5.1 Transcript >> Hello again, this is lecture 5.1 and here in this section we begin a transition from attention to moral philosophy and ethics, per se, to issues of more particularly social and political concern. In particular, we are going to be looking at ideas and principles and theories that specifically focus on social relations and political authority. And, in particular, around issues that will be central to the questions of the ethics of homeland security as we go on to discuss them. Now we begin with a very influential work from the middle of the 19th Century by John Stewart Mill. Of course, we've encountered Mill already in his [inaudible] and he -- but here he is engaging in a more specifically political or social set of issues. We are looking specifically at his book on liberty, which was written in 1959. And, in this lecture, I'll just take us through some of the main points in the first two chapters of that book and we'll deal with the further chapters in subsequent lectures. Now, just looking at the work very generally, and the work as a whole, the major themes of this book from Mill is to try to provide the foundation for standards for limiting liberty -- for promoting as well as limiting, the liberty of citizens in a free society, in justified ways. That is, he's trying to consider various considerations in support of the rights to liberty and privacy and the value of individuality, as well as at the same time, considering what the limits of those rights and values should be. Now the central principle, as he mentions in the introductory chapter, that I'll mention again in a moment, is that there should be no limitations on individual liberty for society, except for the purpose of the prevention of harms to others. Now with that -- and that's a very intuitive and very familiar idea. But what that means is that we -- society should not be, on the one hand, paternalistic. Namely interfere with people for their own good, at least ideally. And secondly, it should not be perfectionistic or promote specific moral religious or value ideals. Therefore he is against what has come to be called legal moralism. That is, he is against the view that we can limit citizens' liberties for the purpose of promoting such ideals. That, he thinks, is up to the person, and for various reasons that he develops. So if you think about the introductory chapter, Chapter 1, Mill first outlines and surveys the various forms that centralized authority has taken, and he's basically looking at the European and, by extension, the North Atlantic context. He was saying that previously in these areas, the threat to liberty has been tyrannical governments, centralized monarchical typically governments, where in more recent times he thinks that what has emerged is what he came to call the tyranny of the majority. That it namely, not just centralized political authority in the form of a monarchy, but democratic forces that might want to impose what is perceived to be a widely shared set of values on a minority or on citizens generally, at the cost of their liberty. He thinks that, I mean his main purpose in this book is to carve out the area of individual freedom that should be immune from such intrusions. So in the introductory chapter he lays out what he says is the central principle of the essay, and that has come to be called the harm principle. Where he says, first, that the only justification of the interference with anyone, is for the purpose of self-protection. And I should interfere with other people only to protect myself. But then he generalizes this to a political principle that says that the only purpose for which power can be exercised by a social authority or a political authority, is to prevent harm to others, other than the person interfered with. That is, this is the only liberty worth the name, he says. Now there are lots of complications to this harm principle that can be raised and can be discussed. First is how to define harm. Lecture 5.2 Transcipt >> This is lecture 5.2, where we continue our discussion of John Start Mills, On Liberty, specifically to continue to discuss the major motivations for the protection of liberty and rights to privacy and related considerations. Here, I will touch briefly on some major themes in chapters 3 and 4, of On Liberty, and try and draw attention to some of the major considerations that have been raised for the protection of liberty in Mill's sense. The title of Chapter 3 is Individuality, and you should notice the subtitle because it says, As One of the Elements of Well-Being. Now, I'll come back to that, but we have to remember that, in general, Mill was a utilitarian so he is meant -- he is understood as advancing philosophical arguments and political arguments that rest completely on grounds of the promotion of utility, mainly the consequences of any policies or laws. But we'll see when we discuss this chapter that he varies --he veers a bit away from that framework perhaps in some of the things he says here. So the purpose of this chapter is to argue that the protection of individuality, the protection of people's liberty, in order for them, to be sort of their own person, is important for a just and free society. And he gives a variety of arguments for why that is. And we should distinguish the arguments from between the ones which focus on the instrumental or consequential value of individuality. The what -- namely, the considerations that referred to its effects and what we could refer to as the intrinsic value of individuality, namely the things about it which are good in itself or show that it is constitutive, that is part of, something which is good in itself. Now, concerning the latter, that is the argument that individuality is good for its own sake is developed by Mill -- starting from the subtitle when he says that having well-being generally is in part constituted by being your own person, by being individual and protecting a certain area around a person within which he or she can act as they wish without interference. That's what it means to protect their individuality. It's part of what allows that. And so, the argument here is that it's necessary in being your own person to have this arena of free space, right, of noninterference. So liberty is important because it protects individuality which is said to be good for its own sake. As he says, spontaneity has a kind of intrinsic worth. Right? That is, not just mimicking what others do or doing things that one is forced to do either by social forces and public opinion, or the force of the law. As he says, "The proper condition of a human being is to use and interpret experience in his own way." Right? So that idea, the proper condition of the human being or just intrinsic to the idea of one's own well-being show that these are intrinsic value arguments, a kind of ideal person argument or this is what it means to be a dignified self governing human being. Now, in addition, and really more so, Mill develops what we could identify as instrumental arguments. Arguments that share the consequences of protecting individuality and among various other things, he mentions that doing so allows for the development of what he calls genius or unusual and admirable personalities only if we don't have strict conformity to custom and we don't have a restrictive society, will genius flower. And the implication there is that's such unusual and admirable and productive personalities are good for everyone. He, by contrast, talks about the despotism of custom in some other cultures as he seemed to understand them. And we could add to this something Mill doesn't say, but considerations that have been developed by others that have looked to this chapter in Mill as inspiration, and that is these are also instrumental or non -- I'm sorry. These are also intrinsic or non-instrumental arguments. And that is to say that a crucial for leading a flourishing life is to be self governing, to be autonomous. Right? This is an idea we talked about when we discussed Kant's moral philosophy. That is, to be able to lead a life that in some way you're imposing on yourself, and not just following because it's been imposed upon you, is sort of fundamental to a flourishing human life. So the centrality of autonomy has been emphasized by many thinkers and they point to Mill, and specifically this chapter as one of the places where that idea is fleshed out. Now, turning to the fourth chapter on the public and private distinction and the requirement or the necessity for a kind of protective private sphere. We look at what Mill says about this, the right to privacy, the importance of privacy, and first, ask how he defines privacy and the initial way he spells out a definition is actually, not very helpful because he says, you know, "The private realm is what is of most interest to the individual and the public is what is most interest to society." Well, that's not helpful as a criterion for what should be protected. Right? Because the question is what should society be interested in? Right? What are the limits of society's interest? So we need more arguments for why -- or for how to draw the line around the private sphere. Now, some of the arguments that he gives include that a reference to the idea that the private realm protects a person's ability to advance their own interests, and the reason that's important is that the person knows his or her own interests best. Right? If the state or society, generally, is trying to intervene all the time for paternalistic reasons, for trying to advance a person's good for -- against their will, there's a much greater risk that they will make mistakes and that they will be wrong about what is really better for the person, that a person knows his or her own interests the best. Now, of course, that's a kind of feasible argument. It depends, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, but it's a general presumption that he wants to emphasize. Now, of course, this is all constrained by the harm principle. So this is the exception to any of this is when the actions in question harm others, and then there's already always a justification for interfering. And then, finally, he talks about the way in which public or state interference with the so-called private realm, the realm of great interest to the individual, that such interferences are often misguided and they overstep their intended bounds, that the state is always in danger of encroaching further than what is justified in trying to intervene into people's private lives. So there's a kind of argument for the danger of overstepping that is here. So we could say much more about these chapters, but for now, the general themes that we want to get from Mill is that liberty should be protected except, when actions cause harm to others for a variety of reasons. The first is certain kinds of liberties like thought and expression should be protected because of their contribution to knowledge. Second, that liberty and privacy should be justified because of the way in which they allow spontaneous action, idiosyncratic action, and, thereby, possibly the flowering of genius and unusual ways of life in which, would be beneficial to people. But also, for reasons that is that to be able to lead your own life without interference is something that's part of just being a self governing person, and so constitutive of well-being in general. And so, those are some general considerations for why liberty is so important in society as developed by the philosophy of John Stuart Mill.
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