Mill, On Liberty

Louisa Brackett
2 min readAug 25, 2020

Mill discusses his ability to understand the relationship between society’s power on individual people in that society. He states that the topic is “civil or social liberty.” Liberty serves as a defense mechanism against powerful rulers. He gives two examples of these. The first is the notion of immunities that serve as their rights in which the leader must respect this boundary. Next, a system of constitutional checks which reminds me of the concept of checks and balances. He goes on to explain the flaw in a democratic republic and how the actual use of power was different than originally thought. Instead, power is used over those without it rather than using power to rule their own self. He adds on to the injustices by saying public opinion is also a hinderance more grand than law. Mill’s question is how to balance public opinion over the individual. He states something I completely identify with because I find it difficult to talk about things I have strong convictions over and I feel as though this is what he begins to touch on. Reasons for beliefs are absent the stronger someone feels about them because they find it uncalled for. He points out this chain leads to broken beliefs which are preferences (Mill, 2011). The only time it is warranted to interfere with liberty is “self-protection.” When Mill says liberty is not for backward societies, he says you have to be able to discuss and if you can’t, be taken care of? I need help understanding that.

Ch.4 → In chapter 4, Mill talks about limits the authority has. He starts it off by stating protection from a society warrants its people acting in a certain way. The protection also warrants the protection from individuals among the society. He uses the word prejudicially. He uses this word to explain the harm that is prohibited if it consists of someone else’s interests. He also talks that it is ignorant and almost useless to keep another individual from living his or her own life because in comparison, you have no idea what that person’s actual wishes or needs are. Later on in this chapter, he says the strongest argument against interference is “even if right, are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases, by persons no better acquainted with the circumstances of such cases than those who look at them merely from without” (144). Society’s people can use their voices to teach, but not to pressure.

Ch. 5 → Chapter 5 serves as a summary of two principles. The individual is not accountable to society for his actions. Second, the individual is to be held accountable for hurting others interests or bodies. He goes into examples. One of which was describing a scenario about a slave having sold himself and whether or not that would constitute the same as hurting someone else.

Mill, J.S. (2011). On Liberty. Project Gutenberg.