Tuesday, April 25, 2006

John Stuart Mill and "On Liberty"

Also in Prospect this month is a good article on John Stuart Mill - and On Liberty in particular. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mill's birth.

I don't know how long these Prospect articles will be freely available, but enjoy them while they last. For Richard Reeves is spot on when he writes of On Liberty:

It is most famous, however, for the "simple" harm principle cited earlier, which guides the limits of interference in a person's actions. But the harm principle is a poor summary of the essay taken as a whole, and a small ingredient in Mill's liberalism.

The principle is, to this day, a powerful counterpoint to paternalism. But for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual.

"He who lets the world ... choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties."

For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life.

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