‘The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to 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 principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.’ 1 John Stuart Mill discusses the conception of liberty in many ways, but I would like to focus on his idea of the harm principle, the harm principle can be a very confusing and complex concept to understand. Mill sees a big problem with society, and this is that individual spontaneity is not respected as being any good and is not seen as essential to anyone’s well-being.
Most people believe that societies ways should be good enough for everyone. Mill believes that individuality is valuable because people might be able to learn from the nonconformists. This is where we see mills harm principle come into play. Most people frown upon other people expressing their feelings and thoughts and usually tend to shun those people out because they don’t conform to society. Mill believes this is not right. If no one is harming you, you should leave them alone. I believe Mill was correct with this thought, even though there were some big contradictions throughout his explanation.
Mill believes that society naturally prefers conformity, but forced conformity keeps people from learning from one another. Mill believes that liberty and individuality and the expression of individuality are key to individual and social progression. Mill believes that seeing and acknowledging other persons dissimilates is key to learning your own weaknesses. Mill acknowledges that the public and social pressure are big reasons why society feels the need to be so conformative. In the face of public pressure to conform to society and the power of laws the individual is not allowed to make meaningful choices. On a more extreme level with utility, Mill believes that conformity hurts society and the individual in the minority because with conformity people lose out on the different and desirable ways of approaching life and thus stop learning from one another. Liberty is the key to individuality.
Mill believes that societies achieve liberty. When it comes to Liberty Mill believes that civil or social liberty is best; which is the nature and limits of the power that society can legitimately exercise over an individual. When society is worried about social conformity, the society itself becomes a tyrant by seeking to inflict its will and values on others. Mill says that liberty can be divided into three types, and each one must be recognized and respected by any free society: Liberty of thought and opinion- people should be able to express their thought and opinions without any repercussions or harm from society. Libert of tastes and which is the freedom to plan your own life. And lastly Liberty to join likeminded individuals for a common purpose that does not hurt anyone.
Which simply means that people should be able to join other people that have the same opinions and feelings as them as long as they are not hurting anyone. I completely agree with Mill, if a group of individuals or just an individual are expressing their thoughts and opinions and they’re not hurt anyone just leave them alone, they are not harming you in anyways, so why bother them. It’s okay to not agree with them and it’s fine to voice your opinion of the dislike, but as mill stated you shouldn’t try to make the person feel uncomfortable or treat them with resentment or anger. “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. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” This is where Mills harm principle really comes into light and can also get a little confusing as well.
Mill says that the government should not be able to control people’s actions if they are not causing harm to others. He also states that if someone is causing harm to themselves that the government shouldn’t involve themselves. Mill believes that since people receive protection from society that they owe a certain conduct in return. Individuals should not injure the interest of other people that should be considered rights. Also, everyone should be held accountable for defending societies and its people form injury. People should encourage others to make full use of their capability and not keep a person from doing that they wish. Now mill does observe that actions shouldn’t be as free as opinions, and he reiterates that both must be limited when they could cause harm to others and be ‘a nuisance to other people.’ The only reason you should take away someone’s liberty is if they are a danger to others. Mills harm principle becomes confusing because at one point, mill contradicts himself. How ‘can any part of the conduct of a member of society be a matter of indifference to the other members?’
No one person is fully isolated from society; their actions can create bad examples for others and they could diminish community resources. Mills explanation to this was that yes, he does agree that some behaviors may affect the ‘sympathies’ of others and could hurt the well-being of the society. He argues that when an action violates a person’s obligations then it doesn’t just affect that one person, and they should face moral reprobation for their actions and breaking those obligations. Mill gives a great example of this. He gives the example of a person who is unable to pay their debts because of extravagant living. Mill says that this behavior deserves punishment because the person failed to fulfill their duty to pay back their debt to the creditors. However, they shouldn’t be punished for living extravagant because that was a personal decision that person made, and it should be respected.