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On Liberty [Hardcover]

John Stuart Mill
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 2002 1584772212 978-1584772217
Influenced by the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Mill [1806-1873] adopted a modified laissez-faire position, believing in the efficiency of free enterprise, but aware of the frequent failure of the market to maximize utility. Later refining this stance, he argued that the promotion of happiness is a moral duty (though he made a clear distinction between desirable and undesirable forms of pleasure). These ideas had a decisive influence on Mill's classic 1859 essay, perhaps the most celebrated defense of individual freedom and "self-protection" to appear in English based on utilitarian values rather than natural right. Cannon, Oxford Companion to British History 643. Printing and the Mind of Man 345. Dictionary of National Biography XIII 390-399.

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Review

"A wonderful edition. The introduction is splendid, and having comments, critiques and reviews as appendices is excellent. One can only hope that this edition becomes standard in colleges and universities." (Irving Louis Horowitz)

"The introduction offers fresh insights [and] the background readings provide much illumination into aspects of Mill's thought that may not be apparent to the modern reader." (Thomas Christiano)

"With an impressively compact and engaging introduction and a well-chosen selection of ancillary materials, Edward Alexander's edition of On Liberty is an excellent choice for undergraduate courses, and will please nineteenth-century specialists as well." (Eileen Gillooly)

"Edward Alexander's work is not just another edition of Mill's On Liberty. In addition to a solid introduction and the text itself, the reader encounters a wealth of material essential to placing the work in its historical and philosophical context: de Tocqueville on majoritarian rule; some of Mill’s early letters discussing themes developed at greater length in On Liberty; his own comments about his work; and comments by contemporaries of Mill, both informal remarks and sustained discussions. Alexander should be commended for making this invaluable material accessible to scholars and students of Mill, of liberalism, of political philosophy, and of the history of ideas." (Maria H. Moralies) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Published in 1859, this essay by British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-73) remains a major influence upon liberal political thought today. In this work, Mill defines liberty as an absolute individual right, and defends freedom of speech as a necessary condition of social and intellectual progress. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Socially Intriguing and Politically Motivating April 8 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
John Stuart Mill, while not the greatest philosopher ever to walk the earth, is the one philosopher that I have studied thus far that really motivated me to become politically active and responsible to my own actions. In his essay, "On Liberty" Mill outlines the boundaries of government and private lives. In short: as long as you do not hurt anyone, you are free to do as you please. Of course, Mill manages to mention a few damaging exceptions to his rule, but the part of his essay that really spoke to me and awoke the activist within was his examination of free expression. What Mill maintains, and I think this is very sound thinking, is that all ideas may be expressed and should never, under any circumstances (except, of course, for one), be silenced by a government. All expressions, whether they be unpopular or dangerous to the government, must have the protection of the state. The reasons for this, he says are many, most notably, that popular conceptions that people have presently tend to die and become less powerful without the challenge of unpopular thought. I witnessed this very circumstance within myself very recently, and I have rebelled against my earlier lethargy and I am ready to take on the world and work to make it a freer and more constructive (rather than destructive) place. This then ties into the essay "Utilitariansim" where Mill tries to prove that the best thing for society is the greatest pleasure and the least amount of pain. While not quite so cut and dry as it may seem, Mill definitely does have an enticing idea on the general welfare of the people. This book, while some may find it dangerous and distasteful, should be read by anyone wanting equality and the freest possible society
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5.0 out of 5 stars Liberty for all! July 8 2004
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
It is surprising to me how many people assume that 'On Liberty' was written before or during the American Revolution - Mill was certainly influenced by the spirit of American liberty, which was variously romanticised and adapted in Britain and Europe during the nineteenth century. Published in 1859, 'On Liberty' is one of the primary political texts of the nineteenth century; perhaps only the writings of Marx had a similar impact, and of the two, in today's world, Mill's philosophy seems the one that is triumphant.
One of the interesting ideas behind 'On Liberty' is that this may in fact be more the inspiration of Harriet Taylor (later Mrs. J.S. Mill) than of Mill himself; Taylor wrote an essay on Toleration, most likely in 1832, but it remained unpublished until after her death. F.A. Hayek (free-market economist and philosopher) noticed this connection. Whether this was the direct inspiration or not, the principles are similar, and the Mills were rather united in their views about liberty.
'On Liberty' is more of an extended essay than a book - it isn't very long (104 pages of the text in the Norton Critical Edition, edited by David Spitz). It relates as a political piece to his general Utilitarianism and political reform ideology. A laissez faire capitalist in political economy, his writing has been described as 'improved Adam Smith' and 'popularised Ricardo'. Perhaps it is in part the brevity of 'On Liberty' that gives it an enduring quality.
There are five primary sections to the text. The introduction sets the stage philosophically and historically. He equates the histories of classical civilisations (Greece and Rome) with his contemporary England, stating that the struggle between liberty and authority is ever present and a primary feature of society.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More relevant today than in 1859 :( July 7 2004
By M. B. Alcat TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was interested in the nature of Civil Liberty, and the limits to the power that a Government can legitimately exercise upon its citizens. He believed that some worrying tendencies could be observed in the England society of his time, and tried to warn others about them.
The author basically explains his ideas regarding the preservation of individual liberties, not only due to the fact that they are rights owed to everyone, but also because they benefit society as a whole.
For example, when he says that liberty of thought and of discussion must be preserved, he tells us that "Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but fact and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it". How can mistaken beliefs or actions be proven wrong, if dissent is forbidden?. The loss for society is clear: "If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error".
In order to preserve the liberties included in the concept of Civil Liberty, the author points out that there must be limits to the action of the Government. He says that "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others". Any other reason is simply not good enough. Thus, Stuart Mill highlights the rights of the individual, but also the limit to those rights: the well-being of others.
"On Liberty" is not too long, and I think you are highly likely to enjoy it, if you can get past the first few pages.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bright Star of Secular Humanist Dogma
JSM's On Liberty certainly stands among the classic works of the Age of Reason. Mill's encyclical is a perfect example of the tendency of the Enlightenment to believe something to... Read more
Published on July 20 2003 by Arthem
4.0 out of 5 stars Profound, if not perfect
It was not Socialism itself that is an evil, but the way it was implemented in some countries, in response to white-anglo-whatever's totally value-less review. Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2003 by Nathaniel Avery
5.0 out of 5 stars A way of life against the oppression of socialism...
Unlike the clueless and completely contradictory rantings of "white_anglo_saxon_muslim", this book is entirely in favour of the freedom of the individual - personal... Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2002 by Conno
1.0 out of 5 stars On socialist tyranny.
This book represents the beginning of the peversion of classical liberalism (Algernon Sidney, John Trenchard, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry) into the tyranny of modern day... Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2001 by "white-anglo-saxon-muslim"
4.0 out of 5 stars Limits of Liberty and Society
John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, defines the nature of civil liberty, and most importantly, the harm principl. Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2000 by Christy
4.0 out of 5 stars J.S. Mill, On Liberty
In On Liberty, Mill attempts to define when the authority of society can rightly limit individuality and the "sovereignty of the individual over himself. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2000 by "kim96"
3.0 out of 5 stars Where liberalism went wrong...
John Stuart Mill was a liberal's liberal or a socialist's socialist- ahead of his times (or just hanging on Karl Marx's coattail. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2000 by R. Setliff
5.0 out of 5 stars Why isn't this book society's instruction manual?
J.S. Mill has written the best promulgation of classical liberalism in his book "On Liberty" (OL). Read more
Published on July 30 2000 by Eric Breitenstein
5.0 out of 5 stars The Relevance of Mills Concept of Civil Liberties Today
John Stuart Mill deals with the issue of "civil liberties" --not the metaphysical issue of "free will". Read more
Published on Oct. 24 1998
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