But, as Professor Richard Wollheim recognized, in Rees's interpretation Mill's liberty or self-protection principle becomes relativistic and conservative in character, and this cannot possibly accord with Mill's intentions. For on Rees's interpretation the boundaries of the self-regarding area will be relativistically determined by the currently dominant conception of interests, and the liberty principle will expand freedom only insofar as legal and social limitations on liberty lag behind changing, more restrictive conceptions of human interests.
These defects in Mill's positive doctrine of a post-capitalist society are widely admitted in the relevant secondary literatures. It remains unquestionably the case, however, that a deep gulf separates Mill's idiosyncratic synthesis of laissez-faire with socialism from any subsequent socialist orthodoxy. If today, we have little to learn from Mill's political economy, still we ought, in intellectual honesty, to distinguish his errors from the even worse ones of his socialist rivals and heirs. Indeed, many socialists today might still benefit from reading Mill's posthumously published Chapters on Socialism, in which he prophetically exposed the dangers to individuality posed by a socialist economy.
John Stuart Mill's Essay On Liberty - Serendipity
D.G. Brown has argued persuasively that we can avoid this relativization of Mill's liberty principle only if we construe Mill as understanding "interests" in a strictly naturalistic and prudential fashion. Rees himself considers this question further in a subsequent "Postscript" to his paper, where he emphasizes the relevance to On Liberty of certain passages in Utilitarianism. Brown's interpretation is further supported by the independent work of D.G. Long. In his highly relevant book Bentham on Liberty (1977), Long emphasizes that several of the crucial distinctions at work in On Liberty are variants of distinctions made by Bentham. And this is most obviously the case with Mill's distinction between self-regarding and other-regarding actions.
On and stuart essays John liberty other mill
The traditional accounts of Mill's doctrine of the limits of state interference interpret his enterprise in On Liberty (l859) as the impossible but perennially attractive one of squaring the circle: that of grounding a theory of the priority of liberty (itself part of a more comprehensive theory of justice and moral rights) in a utilitarian ethic. Mill, indeed, is clearly aware that some of his readers will see his enterprise as wholly misconceived. Thus, in the essay on Utilitarianism (1861, 1863) discussing the utilitarian foundation of his theory of moral rights he concedes: "To have a right, then, is I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of. If the objector goes on to ask, why it ought? I can give him no other reason than general utility." But the traditional view insists that liberal utilitarianism is itself a weak, incoherent "reason," since it is an unstable compound of two incompatible elements: (1) a teleological or maximizing element, in which the only duty any man or any government ever has is to promote the greatest good, and (2) a deontological or "side-constraint" element in which individuals are recognized as possessing inviolable moral rights against unjust treatment by state or society. What if achieving the greatest social good seems to require sacrificing some individual? The incompatible elements in utilitarianism itself create this dilemma.
"is the cutting edge of Mill's essay." 14
The traditional criticism of Mill's enterprise in On Liberty really has two prongs: (1) On the one hand, how can Mill possibly hope to defend what he calls "one very simple principle" of giving liberty a privileged place among political values by invoking considerations of utility alone? Several of the critics discussed in J.C. Rees's classic study of Mill and his Early Critics (1956) highlight the incongruity in Mill's libertarian enterprise of defending this utilitarian principle "as entitled to govern absolutely" restrictions of liberty by society or state. However, as an avowed utilitarian, Mill is already committed to utility as yielding an absolute principle for determining the limits of state interference. (2) On the other hand, Mill's critics insist that, even supposing a successful utilitarian proof for liberty's priority over other political goods, its validity would hinge entirely on the accuracy of our conjectures about the effects on man and society of a regime of liberty. Such a utilitarian argument for liberty, in other words, is permanently defeasible and reversible. It yields antilibertarian results whenever particular predictions of the utility of liberty (or the picture of human nature on which such predictions depend) can be undermined by empirical investigation and argument.