Mill's Principle of Liberty

Philosophy 69 (270):417 - 441 (1994)
Although J. S. Mill′s essay On Liberty was intended by its author to be read as a self-contained work, 1 and even though a careful reading would justify seeing it in this way, it has far too often been denied this right even by its defenders. There is a crucial distinction to be made between eliciting some point of substance from a particular work by an author and then turning to the rest of his work to throw further light on it, and employing other texts from the corpus of his writings to put the construction on certain things said in it which the work by itself cannot sustain, thus treating the former as essentially a fragment, albeit a most important fragment, of a whole. 2 I would suggest that recourse to the latter course is justified only when the possibilities of treating it autarchically have already been explored. In this paper I propose to treat a celebrated text in the former way only because I believe that the results will show such an approach to be uniquely worthwhile, or at least fruitful enough to justify a paper conceived in this way. And, with a view to putting what I want to say about it in maximum focus I shall with one or two exceptions eschew giving supporting evidence from Mill′s other writings, even when this is permitted by the distinction I have made in this opening paragraph
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