J. S. Mill's "on Liberty" and Freedom of Thought

Dissertation, University of Kansas (1986)
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Abstract

This study deals with four issues central to understanding Mill's On Liberty. The first issue concerns the major difficulty which Mill's utilitarianism faces with respect to moral rights, namely, that if on Mill's theory one's rights can be easily overridden by considerations of expedience, then rights having weight against such considerations cannot be justified in terms of Mill's theory of morality. It is argued that this traditional objection can be overcome and that Mill's theory can accommodate "absolute" moral rights. The second issue concerns the proper interpretation of Mill's Principle of Noninterference, from which his Principle of Freedom of Thought is said to follow. It is argued that Mill's Principle of Noninterference should be interpreted in a way that is inconsistent with even a weak form of paternalism. The third issue concerns the proper interpretation of Mill's Principle of Freedom of Thought, from which certain "absolute" rights are said to follow. It is argued that that principle is composed of several theses regarding the content, fact, and manner of the entertainment, expression, and formation of thought, as well as a thesis regarding people's rights of access to others' expression of thought. The fourth issue concerns the analysis of Mill's arguments for the Principle of Freedom of Thought. It is argued that Mill advances arguments which directly support the Principle of Freedom of Thought as well as arguments which indirectly support that principle. The former include the reliability argument, the mental development argument, the impartiality argument, and the vivid conception argument; the latter include the argument from individuality and the knowledge of the circumstances argument. The general conclusion of this study is that an "absolute" right to freedom of thought is consistent with Mill's theory of morality and that in On Liberty Mill presents defensible arguments for that right

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