On Liberty

Essay by roarkheroUniversity, Bachelor's April 2005

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John Stuart Mill's arguments, put forth in his book "On Liberty," rely very heavily on a few things, both common sense, and examples from real life situations of his time. Common sense is such an important tool to him, especially as it relates to the harm principle, and from his common sense, he applies common sense examples from his time period to lead the reader on a logical path, which ultimately portrays liberty as the cornerstone for continual human progress and avoidance of social stagnation.

In his first chapter, Mill sets up historical context for the reader to look at liberty. "The subject of this essay is not called the so called 'liberty of the will,' so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of philosophical necessity; but civil, or social liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society of the individual (p. 1)."

Mill's reasoning for us to look at liberty in this way is because of the historical context of the word. Mill reasons that throughout history, liberty has been used as a word which meant "protection against the tyranny of the political rulers (p. 1)." Mill feels that the rulers of those days, in early Greece, Rome, and England that the rulers would become much like a dominant animal, which attempted to protect the community by virtue of its elevated status. He uses the example of vultures to illustrate his point.

"To prevent the weaker members of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, it was needed that there should be an animal of prey stronger that the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king of the vultures would be no less bent upon preying on the flock than any other of the minor harpies, it...