13MILL - 1 BLACKBOARD NOTES ON ON LIBERTY, CHAPTER 1...

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1 BLACKBOARD NOTES ON ON LIBERTY , CHAPTER 1 Philosophy 13 Fall, 2007 In chapter 1 of On Liberty Mill states that the problem of liberty has changed its aspect with the emergence of modern democratic societies. When society was ruled by a king or a few aristocrats, the struggle for individual liberty took the form of limiting the power and prerogatives of the rulers. Once the possibility of replacing minority rule with democratic rule became salient, reformers identified the struggle for liberty with the struggle for democracy. In the middle of the 19th century, we now have experience of democratic regimes, and can see that a democratic constitution of society is fully compatible with tyranny of the majority--laws favored by the majority that wrongfully restrict the liberty of individual citizens. The tyranny of society over the "separate individuals who compose it" can be exercised by laws and official acts of government officials, but can also be exercised through informal means. Tyranny of the majority can be political or social, and social tyranny may be "more formidable than many kinds of political oppression," since the former type of tyranny "leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself" (all the quotations in this paragraph are from p. 4). The last phrase registers Mill's concern that in democratic society those who suffer from wrongful restriction of liberty may not experience the restriction as onerous or believe it to be wrongful. How do we draw the line between morally acceptable and unacceptable restrictions of individual liberty? Mill says we cannot merely rely on our prereflective judgments or sentiments about what is acceptable and what is not. Our prereflective views that strike us as just common sense or as intuitively obvious may simply reflect the fact that we have been socialized into the prevailing customs and traditions of our tribe and have internalized its dominant norms. Sounding a Marxian note, Mill writes that the norms dominant in a given society may be observed to differ greatly from the norms enforced in other societies, and in any given society the dominant norms are likely to reflect the interests of the dominant social groups. We cannot then rely on our gut feelings or untutored common sense. We need to think critically about the customs and morals of our own tribe and try to develop principles that can yield judgments about cases that make sense to us after critical reflection. Mill's proposed "one very simple" principle concerning the social regulation of individual liberty is stated on page 9; it's often called the Liberty Principle or the Harm Principle. The principle is stated in what look to be two different versions on the same page:
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13MILL - 1 BLACKBOARD NOTES ON ON LIBERTY, CHAPTER 1...

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