13ONLIBERTYCHAP4

13ONLIBERTYCHAP4 - 1 CHAPTER 4, On Liberty. Does Mill...

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1 CHAPTER 4, On Liberty. Does Mill Qualify the Liberty Principle to Death? Dick Arneson For PHILOSOPHY 13 FALL, 2006 In chapter 1, Mill proposes "one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and controL" As described in chapter 1, the proposed Liberty Principle (LP) looks to be substantive and controversial. Question: Do the later chapters 4 and 5 qualify the LP to the point that it becomes toothless-nonsubstantive and uncontroversial? To see the problem, consider the reading of Mill in the "Editor's Introduction" by Elizabeth Rapaport. She says that in chapter 1 Mill asserts Principle I. The only legitimate ground for social coercion is to prevent someone from doing harm to others. But in chapter 4, discussing objections, Mill denies Principle I and in its place asserts Principle II. The only legitimate ground for social coercion is to prevent someone from violating "a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons. In other words, Principle II holds that the only legitimate ground for social coercion is to prevent someone from violating the rights of others. What gives? Why assert in chapter 1 what you are going to retract later? Rapaport says "Mill's procedure is a model of open philosophical inquiry." This does not seem to suffice to excuse Mill from the obligation to explain in chapter 1 that Principle I is only provisional and not his real view. Worse, Principle II does not look like a real principle, it looks like a blank check. One could know all the possibly relevant facts that bear on policy choice and still not know what are the legitimate grounds for coercion according to Mill. In this respect, the supposedly rejected Principle I is superior. Rapaport is untroubled. She writes, "Mill's principle is not designed to settle the question of what are our assignable obligations, what specifically are the rights that society is supposed to protect." But the problem is that as presented by Rapaport, Mill does not tell us how to go about deciding what obligations and rights people should be regarded as having. So far, acceptance of the Liberty principle seems to commit one to nothing. Mill does not write as though for all that he has said, it is an entirely open question, what rights and obligations people have. Discussing the Alliance for temperance reform and its proposals about social rights (pp. 86-88), Mill writes as though anyone who accepts the Liberty Principle is committed to rejecting the expansive understanding of social rights propounded by some temperance reformers and to rejecting banning the recreational drinking of alcoholic beverages as a violation of this principle. If Rapaport's interpretation were correct, it would be hard to understand how Mill could think himself entitled to argue in this way. Here is one possible way to put teeth back into the Liberty Principle, interpreted as Principle II. Add
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13ONLIBERTYCHAP4 - 1 CHAPTER 4, On Liberty. Does Mill...

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