IV: The Place of Liberty
How much power should the state have?
Anarchist says: no justified power
Absolutist says: any power necessary
Mill says: enough to protect liberty
Liberty Principle (Harm Principle): one may justifiably limit a person's freedom
of action only if they threaten harm to another
Condition: applicable to “any member of a civilized community”.
This excludes children and “barbarians.”
Argument: liberty is only valuable under certain conditions, otherwise liberty can
do great harm.
Freedom of Thought
Unpopularity is no justification for silencing a particular point of view.
1) If the view was true or partly true, then the chance for truth or partial
truth is lost
2) If the view was false, then we lose the opportunity to
challenge/reaffirm the true view
Difference between having certainty in a view and for the view to be certain.
What about the objection that certain thoughts can be harmful to society?
Mill's rebuttal: the usefulness of an opinion is itself an opinion -> infinite regress
But accepting that, one would have no more reason to permit freedom of
thought than one would have to ban it
Mill: Generally better to have expression of ideas both true and false,
for true beliefs, untested, become dead dogma. “We go to sleep at
[the] post as soon as there is no enemy in the field” Yet, sometimes a contrary false view may win the upper hand
(creationism in the United States, etc.)
Harm to Others
Freedom of expression is to be limited when it is almost certain to lead to harm to
Problem: two classification of actions.
1) Self-regarding actions > involve only the agent, or others at their free
2) Other-regarding actions > involve/affect at least one person other than the
Mill's Liberty Principle claims that we can regulate other-regarding actions
but not self-regarding actions.
Criticism: the astute critic can make a case that any self-regarding action
can become an other-regarding action.
Mill: harm =/= like/dislike. Rather, harm is defined by Mill as
“damage to interests.”
Criticism: “interest” is very hard to define. Is it financial? Interest
in personal safety and security?
Mill: interest is not a sufficient condition to justify