CMN 3105: Reading #5 Oct 20th 2013
Jon Stuart Mill
Govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether
the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion.
That 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.
In the part which merely concerns himself his independence is of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own
body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
If anyone does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him, by law or where legal
penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation.
A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction and in either case he is justly
accountable to them for the injury.
There are often good reasons for not holding him to the responsibility; but these reasons for not holding him
to responsibility; but these reasons must arise from the special expediencies of the case: either because it
is a kind of case in which he is on the whole likely to act better when left to his own discretion, than when
controlled in any way in which society have it in their power to control him or because the attempt to
exercise control would produce other evils, greater than those which it would prevent.
But there is a sphere of action in which society as distinguished from the individual has if an indirect
interest; comprehending all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also
affects others only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation.
From this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty within the same limits of combination among
individuals; freedom to unite for any purposes not involving harm to others: the persons combining being
supposed to be of full age and not forced or deceived. No society in which these liberties are not on the
whole, respected is free which they do not exist absolute and unqualified.
Of the limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual: To individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to a society
the part which chiefly interests society.
This conduct consists, first in not injuring the interests of one another or rather certain interests which either
by express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered as rights and secondly in each
persons bearing his share ( to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labors and sacrifices incurred for
defending the society or its members from injury and molestation.
As soon as any part of a persons conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction
over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it,
becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such questions when a person’s
conduct affects the interests of no person besides himself or needs not affect them unless they like all the
persons concerned being of full age and the ordinary amount of understanding)
Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him even obtruded
on him by others; but he, himself is the final judge. All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and
warning are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.
A person who shoes rashness, obstinacy, self conceit who cannot live within moderate means who cannot
restrain himself from hurtful indulgences who pursues animal pleasures at the expense of those of feelings
and intellect must expect to be lowered in the opinion of others and to have less share of their favorable
sentiments bit of this he has no right to complain, unless he has merited their favor by special excellence in
his social relations and has thus established a title to their goo offices, which is not affected by his demerits
They may be proofs of any amount of folly, or want of personal dignity and self respect; but they are only a
subject or moral reprobation when they involves a breach of duty to others, for whose sakes the individual is
bound to have care for himself.
The evil consequences of his acts of not then fall on himself but on others and society as the protector of all
its members must retaliate on him must inflict pain on him for the express purpose of punishment and must
take care that it be sufficiently severe. There is no question here it may be sold about restricting individuality or impeding the trail of news and
original experiments in living. the only things it is sought to prevents are things which have been tried and
condemned from the beginning of the world until now; things which experience has shown not to be useful
or suitable to any person’s individuality.
Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage or a definite risk of damage either to an individual or to the
public the case is taken out of the province of liberty and place in that morality of law.
The inconvenience is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good of human
But I cannot consent to argue the point as if society had no means of bringing its weaker members up to its
ordinary standards of rational conduct, except waiting till they do something irrational, and then punishing
them, legally or morally for it. Society has absolute power over them during all the early portion of their
existence: it has had the whole period of