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Lecture

Liberty Lecture

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Department
Political Science
Course
Political Science 1020E
Professor
Charles Jones
Semester
Fall

Description
Liberty Part One The Liberty Principle 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” (chapter 1, paragraph 1)  The need to restrict both state and society (public opinion) in their ability to shape conduct o Mainly concerned about is public opinion to prevent us from doing things we wouldn’t necessarily do (shape conduct) o Wants to strike balance between social control and individual independence Stages of Liberty  History of Relations between individuals authority  Throughout this history, the meanings of liberty and tyranny have changed  Four stages of social development, liberty means something different at each stage First Stage  Contest between subjects and government  Liberty means protection of society against tyranny of political rulers (rejection of tyranny)  Movement towards political rights, constitutional checks Second Stage  Development of democratic government  Liberty means popular self-rule (us as a group ruling ourselves)  Rulers are the ruled, so (it was thought) there is no need to limit government power, because government is us and we all rule equally  No fear of nation tyrannising over itself  We rule ourselves, autonomy Third Stage  Recognition that political majority can be tyrannical over the minority  Tyranny of majority  If you’re in the minority, majority ruling is cold comfort  Liberty is democratic government with protection for minorities Fourth Stage  Threat of social tyranny: the tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling  Tyranny of society over the non-conforming  Tyranny of society rather than the state  Proper recognition of individual liberty  Oppressive, soul-enslaving customs and prejudices  Liberty is individual spontaneity Mill’s Question  When is it legitimate to interfere in people’s lives?  Mill rejects appeals to custom, tradition, or popular morality  He seeks a principled answer 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” (chapter 1, paragraph 9)  Only reason is civilized community in which we can legitimately prevent someone from doing someone from doing what they want to do is to prevent harm from someone else  Only harm to others, not to yourself  Always wrong for society to exercise its view over an individual Mill’s Radical Principle  A person’s freedom to act may be limited ONLY IF she or he threatens to harm another person  But liberty is valuable only for civilized societies, capable of moral progress Pierre Elliott Trudeau  Prime minister of Canada in 1968  Used to be justice minister of Canada  Responsible for removing laws against homosexuality Trudeau on Homosexuality  “The view we take here is that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”  (when between consenting adults), humans should be free to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone Against Paternalism  Paternalism: coercing people to change their behaviour for their own good  Paternalists want to protect individuals from themselves  Example: seat-belt legislation- only explainable in paternalistic views, the reasons for the seatbelt is because it saves lives and is good for you so the state is forcing you to do it Freedom of Thought and Discussion Against Censorship  Mill defends complete freedom of thought and discussion  It is never justifiable to silence the expression of an opinion, whether it is true or false Can’t we Suppress Harmful, False Views?  But, how can we know the views are false  Mill says: there are many certainties have turned out to be false  To censor without testing is to assume infallibility Is it Always Better to Know the Truth?  Knowledge can be harmful (for example, nuclear weapons)  Will it always make us better off to know something we didn’t know before  Knowledge can lead to the dissolution of society (atheism?)- wide spread view that if there is no God we can all eat drink and be merry. Shouldn’t allow atheists to poke holes in religious arguments  Dostoevsky: need for necessary illusions  If there is no god, everything is permitted, but too terrible to contemplate so we shouldn’t argue it  Mill says it is always best to know the truth Can’t we suppress Opinions that aren’t Useful?  How can we know whether an opinion is useful or harmful?  Do we know that Atheism will destroy society?  The only way to know is to test opinions in open discussion, even with conflicts as long as conflicts are discussed respectively John Stuart Mill Another Reason not to Censor False Views  False views can function as a challenge (ex: creationism- ‘creation science’)  Dead dogma vs. living truth- different ways in which we can believe things – “If you can’t explain and defend something then you don’t understand it” o Dead dogma= believing a truth o Not only important to just believe the truth, because what if your views are challenged o Hold truths as living truths- understand why they are true, best way to hold living truths is to have your views constantly challenged or questioned  Enables believers of the truth to defend themselves o Allows every type of view to have its say When Expression of a View may be Limited  Mil thinks It’s always wrong to censor a view  But It’s legitimate to restrict its expression if it’s likely to directly instigate harm to others  Example: corn dealers-corn dealers are starving the poor- should be allowed to say that but if you’re standing in front
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