Mill, Indecency and the Liberty Principle

Utilitas 10 (1):1-16 (1998)
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In this paper I want to do two things. One concerns Mill’s attitude to public indecency. In On Liberty Mill expresses the conventional view that certain actions, if conducted in public, are an affront to good manners, and can properly be prohibited. I want to come to an understanding of Mill’s position so that it allows him to defend this part of conventional morality, but does not disrupt certain of his liberal convictions: principally the conviction that what consenting adults do in private is no-one ‘s concern but their own. The difficulty is to find an argument that Mill could have used to defend the position that some things which, though acceptable in private, can rightly be stopped if attempted in public. The other thing I want to do is consider the impact of Mill’s view of indecency on the interpretation of the Liberty Principle. There remain difficulties here which, to my knowledge, have not been adequately explored. So I want to look at a range of interpretative alternatives. In the first part of the paper I shall raise and explore the issue of the interpretative problems. In the second part I shall look at some ways of trying to justify Mill’s view of indecency on characteristically Millian grounds. And in the final part I shall explore the somewhat surprising consequences of the discussion of the second part for the interpretative questions raised in the first



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Jonathan Wolff
Oxford University

References found in this work

Offense to Others.Bernard Gert - 1987 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 48 (1):147-153.
One Very Simple Principle.Jonathan Riley - 1991 - Utilitas 3 (1):1.
John Stuart mill and the limits of state action.Richard Wollheim - 1973 - Social Research: An International Quarterly 40 (1):1--30.
Law, Liberty and Indecency.David A. Conway - 1974 - Philosophy 49 (188):135-147.

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