Secondly, that for such actions as areprejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable,and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, ifsociety is of the opinion that the one or the other is requisite forits protection."
The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable tosociety for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of noperson but himself....
Along with other thinkers of the period—Arnold, Nietzsche, andSchiller are all useful points of comparison—Mill believes thatthe great danger of mass-society is self-repression and conformism,leading to the sapping of human energy and creativity. Victoriansociety was, he claimed, governed by an ethos of propriety based on“Christian self-denial”; Mill, in contrast, encourages the“Greek ideal of self-development” (Liberty,XVIII: 266). It is individuals that are well-rounded, authentic andspontaneous, he believes, that are most truly happy.
The basic diversity of human beings means it is not productive forthere to exist an expectation that all individuals will live in asimilar manner. In this sense, the argument is a pragmatic one: thatone mode of life is unlikely to fit all individual tastes. But Millalso suggests that it is a central feature of the good life that it bea life chosen for oneself.
Mill’s argument for freedom ofcharacter—“Individuality” (Liberty, XVIII:260)—is given in chapter 3 of On Liberty, and istwo-pronged. On the one hand, he argues that it is best forindividuals that they are given freedom and space to developtheir own character. On the other, he argues that it best forsociety, too. Mill’s argument for the former is Romantic intone, maintaining that, because different individuals have differentnatures, they must be given space to discover and develop their ownpersonalities and ways of living.
First:—The individual who is presumed to be the best judge of his own interests may be incapable of judging or acting for himself; may be a lunatic, an idiot, an infant: or though not wholly incapable, may be of immature years and judgment. In this case the foundation of the principle breaks down entirely. The person most interested is not the best judge of the matter, nor a competent judge at all. Insane persons are everywhere regarded as proper objects of the care of the state. In the case of children and young persons, it is common to say, that though they cannot judge for themselves, they have their parents or other relatives to judge for them. But this removes the question into a different category; making it no longer a question whether the government should interfere with individuals in the direction of their own conduct and interests, but whether it should leave absolutely in their power the conduct and interests of somebody else. Parental power is as susceptible of abuse as any other power, and is, as a matter of fact, constantly abused. If laws do not succeed in preventing parents from brutally ill-treating, and even from murdering their children, far less ought it to be presumed that the interests of children will never be sacrificed, in more commonplace and less revolting ways, to the selfishness or the ignorance of their parents. Whatever it can be clearly seen that parents ought to do or forbear for the interest of children, the law is warranted, if it is able, in compelling to be done or forborne, and is generally bound to do so. To take an example from the peculiar province of political economy; it is right that children, and young persons not yet arrived at maturity, should be protected so far as the eye and hand of the state can reach, from being over-worked. Labouring for too many hours in the day, or on work beyond their strength, should not be permitted to them, for if permitted it may always be compelled. Freedom of contract, in the case of children, is but another word for freedom of coercion. Education also, the best which circumstances admit of their receiving, is not a thing which parents or relatives, from indifference, jealousy, or avarice, should have it in their power to withhold.
Few things are commoner, in this neighbourhood, than someone'sasserting that an individual or a group has a right to something whenthey do not have a right either in law or in their society's customaryor established morality.
People go to any means by which to obtain the many varied materials and issues that induce pleasures in each individual, and intrinsically, this emotion remains the ultimate goal, John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century philosopher, correctly advocated the pursuit of happiness, and maintained the concept that above all other values, pleasure existed as the final destination, Mill's hedonistic views correctly and rationally identified a natural human tendency, and his Utilitarian arguments strongly support the theory that above all else, happiness is the most important dream to be fulfilled....
Surely he must be taken to be speaking of suchinterests, incidentally, in referring to 'the permanent interests ofman as a progressive being' in passage 3 -- of which you will behearing some more.
What we come to, then, is a fifth understanding of Mill's principle ofliberty, which makes it into this: the state and society can interferein the life of an individual if and only if he violates certain moralrights of someone else or the public -- neither legal nor customary orestablished moral rights.
One thing must be strenuously insisted on; that the government must claim no monopoly for its education, either in the lower or in the higher branches; must exert neither authority nor influence to induce the people to resort to its teachers in preference to others, and must confer no peculiar advantages on those who have been instructed by them. Though the government teachers will probably be superior to the average of private instructors, they will not embody all the knowledge and sagacity to be found in all instructors taken together, and it is desirable to leave open as many roads as possible to the desired end. It is not endurable that a government should, either or have a complete control over the education of the people. To possess such a control, and actually exert it, is to be despotic. A government which can mould the opinions and sentiments of the people from their youth upwards, can do with them whatever it pleases. Though a government, therefore, may, and in many cases ought to, establish schools and colleges, it must neither compel nor bribe any person to come to them; nor ought the power of individuals to set up rival establishments, to depend in any degree upon its authorization. It would be justified in requiring from all the people that they shall possess instruction in certain things, but not in prescribing to them how or from whom they shall obtain it.
Another difficult case is hate speech. Most liberal democracies havelimitations on hate speech, but it is debatable whether these can bejustified by the harm principle as formulated by Mill. One would haveto show that such speech violated rights, directly and in the firstinstance. I am interested here in hate speech that does not advocateviolence against a group or individual because such speech would becaptured by Mill's harm principle. The Public Order Act 1986 in theU.K. does not require such a stringent barrier as the harm principleto prohibit speech. The Act states that “A person is guilty ofan offence if he ...displays any writing, sign or other visiblerepresentation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within thehearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm ordistress.”
In England, and most European countries, elementary instruction cannot be paid for, at its full cost, from the common wages of unskilled labour, and would not if it could. The alternative, therefore, is not between government and private speculation, but between a government provision and voluntary charity: between interference by government, and interference by associations of individuals, subscribing their own money for the purpose, like the two great School Societies. It is, of course, not desirable that anything should be done by funds derived from compulsory taxation, which is already sufficiently well done by individual liberality. How far this is the case with school instruction, is, in each particular instance, a question of fact. The education provided in this country on the voluntary principle has of late been so much discussed, that it is needless in this place to criticize it minutely, and I shall merely express my conviction, that even in quantity it is , and is likely to remain, altogether insufficient, while in quality, though with some slight tendency to improvement, it is never good except by some rare accident, and generally so bad as to be little more than nominal. I hold it therefore the duty of the government to supply the defect, by giving pecuniary support to elementary schools, such as to render them accessible to all the children of the poor, either freely, or for a payment too inconsiderable to be sensibly felt.