Is John Stuart Mill’s Liberty and Individuality Essay Persuasive?

Mill states that his essay’s argument is to “assert” that there is a principle (his theory for utilitarianism) that can be used to determine if a government can rightfully regulate an individual’s actions. Mill throughout his essay says that he fears that democracy can negatively influence individuality. Mill argues that if society or government interferes with liberty of action of people, it must be to prevent harm to others.

A key term to note in John Start Mill’s Liberty and Individuality essay is that when he says by “utility,” he is referring to his theory of utilitarianism. This theory states that all actions, policies, and/or laws should be judged by if they encourage the most amount of happiness of the largest number of people or not.

I believe that overall, Mill’s essay is persuasive because he clearly states his argument and provides ideas from himself and references other readings to prove his point. For example, he references Ball et al., who argues that compulsion is only justifiable if it is for protection of others. Mill uses this idea to back up his argument. Mill also is persuasive because he discusses counterarguments to his thesis, discussing how a person might be causing harm to others with actions or inaction and claims it is for the benefit of a community. However, Mill says that in cases such as these the individual is accountable for their actions and the injury it causes to others (unless there is a specific reason why the individual should be exempt from punishment).

Mill insists that society must respect individuals and their freedom, and that this cannot happen if there is not a way to pursue individual’s goals while causing no harm to their community. He says that he believes that public opinion is now what rules the world – the collective opinion of a whole population overrides the genius of one person, and this is what should determine the community’s laws, ethics, morals, etc.

I did find Mill to have a slightly cynical outlook throughout his essay, such as how he refers to the ‘mediocracy of a population’ and the ‘low state of the human mind.’ It seems to me like he views a community overall as being ‘mediocre’ in terms of their ability to think about and discuss ethical and philosophical questions. However, if he views humans like this then why does he place so much importance upon individual freedom? Is this idea also to benefit those he views as ‘genius,’ or is it because he thinks that everyone should be able to do what they want so long as they cause no harm to others?