13MillonIndividuality - Mill on Individuality Phil 13 Fall,...

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Mill on Individuality Phil 13 Fall, 2007 Paragraphs (and sentences) in regular type are interpretations of what Mill is saying. Paragraphs (and sentences) in italics are my comments.-Dick Arneson In chapter 3 of ON LIBERTY Mill argues that individuality is one of the essentials of human well-being. Mill holds we cannot achieve happiness without individuality. So what is individuality? It's not easy to say. Mill enthusiastically praises individuality, and associates many goods with it, but he does not offer a definition of the word. The set of claims he wants to make by means of the notion is reasonably clear. Mill contrasts individuality with mere conformity to custom. The habit of choosing to do something just because that's the way things are usually done around here does not promote individuality. But mechanically resisting custom would not do either. I ndividuality and conformity to custom. Sometimes it sounds as though Mill identifies individuality with becoming different from other people in one's preferences, values, way of life. But is Mill celebrating weirdness for its own sake? Of the English people of his day, Mill complains, "they like in crowds." Why is this bad? Having limited experience, I look to others, especially those I consider my peers, for cues as to what is worthwhile and choiceworthy. People take pleasure in being fashionable, in conforming to the customs of the fashion- conscious. The issue cannot be whether one chooses what is different from what others choose or the same as they choose. What Mill evidently wants is that people should choose reflectively, in the light of their own experience. One aspect of individuality is choosing one's own plan of life independently after reflection and deliberation. A plan of life is a strategy for how to live so as to achieve one's basic aims. Individuality and development of mental faculties . Mill associates individuality with developing one's talents and capacities, especially one's mental capacities Choosing one's own plan of life is also linked to mental cultivation. Mill writes, "He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the apelike one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." This claimed link between choosing one's own plan of life and developing one's talents looks tenuous. First, even if one chooses a plan of life by slavishly following the local custom or the advice of one's relatives, whether this leads to mental cultivation or not depends above all on the content of the socially endorsed life plan one thoughtlessly chooses. Born in a family of scientists, conforming to family custom unreflectively might lead one to be a nuclear physicist or bio-medical researcher. Second, one could choose for oneself thoughtlessly, and the content of what one chooses might not include mental cultivation. The life I choose independently, striking off on my own path against custom, might be to be
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13MillonIndividuality - Mill on Individuality Phil 13 Fall,...

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