Rights, Consequences, and Mill on Liberty

Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 15:167-180 (1983)
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Abstract

Mill says that the object of his essay On Liberty is to defend a certain principle, which I will call the ‘liberty principle’, and will take to say the following: ‘It is permissible, in principle, for the state or society to control the actions of individuals “only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the interest of other people”’. The liberty principle is a prescription of intermediate generality. Mill intends it to support more specific political prescriptions, such as liberty of conscience, of expressing and publishing opinions, of framing a plan of life to suit our own character, and of combination for any purpose not involving harm to others . The liberty principle is more general than these prescriptions but less general than its possible moral foundations, such as utilitarianism. My concern will be with attempts to defend the liberty principle by showing it to be supported by an acceptable moral position

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