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Western University
Political Science
Political Science 1020E
Charles Jones

Politics 1020 October 4, 2012 Liberty John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) What “On Liberty” is about? - “The nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1 - The need to restrict both state and society (public opinion) in their ability to shape conduct - Life would not be worth living if we did not have constraints on other people Stages of Liberty - History of relations between individuals and authority - Throughout the history, the meanings of liberty and tyranny have changed - Four stages of social development First Stage - Contest between subjects and the government - Liberty means protection of society against tyranny of political rulers - Political rights, constitutional checks Second Stage - Development of democratic government - Liberty means popular self-rule - Rulers are the ruled, so (it was thought) there is no need to limit government power o The government is just us o We all rule equally Third Stage - Recognition that the political majority can be tyrannical over the minority - Liberty is democratic government with protection for minorities Fourth Stage - Threat of social tyranny: the tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling - Oppressive, soul-enslaving customs and prejudices - Liberty is individual spontaneity - Mill worries about middle class Mill’s Question - When is it legitimate to interfere in people’s lives? - Mill rejects appeals to custom, tradition, or popular morality The Liberty Principle - “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Mill, On Liberty, chapter 1, paragraph 9 Mill’s Radical Principle - A person’s freedom to act may be limited only if he or she threatens to harm another person - Liberty is valuable, only for civilized societies, capable of moral progress Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919 – 2000) - Justice Minister of Canada, 1968 Trudeau on Homosexuality - “The view we take here is that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Against Paternalism - Paternalism: coercing people to change their behavior for their own good - Paternalists wants to protect individuals from themselves - Example: seat belt legislation Mill Against Censorship - Mill defends complete freedom of thought and discussion - Never justifiable to silence the expression of an opinion, whether true or false Can’t We Suppress Harmful, False Views? - How can we know they are false? o Mill says many certainties have turned out to be false o To censor without testing is to assume infallibility Is It Always Better to Know the Truth? - Knowledge can be harmful (ex: nuclear weapons) - Knowledge an lead to the dissolution of society (ex: atheism) - Dostoevsky: need for necessary illusions o If it were true that there was no God, it would be too horrible to contemplate Can’t We Suppres
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