John Stuart Mill - "On Liberty": "The Liberty of Action."

Essay by MerunkaCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 2005

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The essay "On Liberty" written by John Stuart Mill presents the utilitarian vision of human freedom. In my essay, I am going to show what kind of actions John Stuart Mill considers unacceptable and why. In the light of comparison between the customs in the United States and Mill's utopian society, I would like to examine to what extent the United States follows similar principles of freedom. I believe that John Stuart Mill was considerably more open to personal choice than we are nowadays, moreover, he would be very likely to disagree with some of the rules we consider essential.

John Stuart Mill is a strong believer in individual rights of privacy and freedom. According to him, any person (except children and barbarians) should be the only ruler of his or her destiny. "To individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part which chiefly interests society."

However, there are exceptions. "As soon as any part of a person's 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." This awards every individual large responsibility; the responsibility for life.

Nowadays, the question of responsibility for one's own actions is still widely discussed. It became a rule that one has the right of choice only over the "less important" actions. For example, a person is considered to be perfectly capable of deciding personal relationships or career interests. What is, however, completely unacceptable, is the decision over one's existence.

Present society seems to assume that it is able to understand individual members' best interests better than they do themselves. The best example can be driving.