Mill starts out by taking the hard way of defending liberty – not relying on natural right, but you
should because it’s in your own interest to defend not only your own liberty but that of others as
well. We as a society – what leads to progress of individuals and hence society – is when great
individuals pursue great pursuits.
There’s a deeply egalitarian idea. “My happiness counts for one, and so does every other
individuals’.” No one’s happiness is worth more than anyone else’s in utilitarian calculus. But
also some elitism – some ways are life are just better than others; some pursuits are better.
The individual is sovereign over his own body and mind and only they know what is most
fulfilling for themselves… but at the same time, he says that some pursuits are better than others.
If we defend liberty on the basis that it leads to progress, why should we defend the liberty of
people doing anything but that, which leads to progress?
We don’t want to leave the question of the extent to which society can interfere to public opinion
because a) it is extremely powerful (tyranny of the majority…. How far should the authority
meddle in the lives of individuals? The answer shouldn’t be changeable. His concern for public
opinion can be seen through fashion trends. Consider the fashion at the end of the 1980s: almost
universal sense of relief. “Thank goodness that we never have to hear the music again, that we
never have to see this hair/this fashion again.” Now it’s back – neon, flares… What’s interesting
is that during the 1980s no one would go outside in anything but that. You get to the 1990s and
you think “I would not be caught dead going out like that.” And now it’s all back again!
You present yourself in the world however you’re told to by the tyranny of the majority. Fashion
trends are trivial, but they exemplify how one thing could be the height of awesome and the next
week something you never want to wear in public and later popular again. This is a dangerous
way of thinking about living.
Concept: defend liberty with a principle of harm (utility). Only reason for which they’re allowed
to interfere is to prevent harm to others.
In the first place, if the person was wrong, we gain from the discussion of it. In second place, the
person was right, and we were wrong. We gain truth that we didn’t have before. Most people are
usually a bit of both, so we always gain by allowing people to speak even if they’re wrong.
We as a society progress by gaining a fuller understanding of truth, and the same is true of
individuals. When it comes to expression, it means we have an interest in allowing the greatest
possible freedom of expression.
You can take power of sanction instead of sanctioning through law. The individual’s liberty is
only limited in that he must not make himself a nuisance to others. The same reasons that prove
freedom of expression also prove freedom of action.