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On Liberty

Rights and responsibilities course

Mike Yule

on 10 March 2015

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Transcript of On Liberty

On Liberty
To explore the notion of liberty
Consider how liberty is protected
Consider challenges of protecting
the liberty of the individual
in the social sphere
Main aims of "On Liberty"
a plea for widest possible scope
of 'Freedom of Speech'
a defence for individuality
sets out criteria for when society should interfere
with individual's freedom of action
What are the limits of freedom of the individual in a 'civilised' society?
argued for extensive freedom, particularly in speech or expression...
pre-condition for happiness of individual and a flourishing society
to allow variety of ideas without which humankind might not develop
maximises prospect of truth emerging
avoids dead dogma
Harm Principle
an individual may do whatever they choose up to the point where...
they harm another person
do what you wish as long as
you don't harm others
'harm' = go against the rights of
How much freedom?
tyranny of the masses
NB Mill argued that liberty was valuable
under certain conditions only
i.e. mature civilisation
not suitable for "barbarians" or "children"
To what extent should children dictate or choose what they learn?
Human flourishing
Human beings are self directing...
they're not robots!
They'd be stifled by constant intervention
Individuals know best what is best for them
But freedom is not just about
maximising happiness...
It also promotes:
human development


minority ideas
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
If X is right, the majority get the opportunity to correct its own view

If X is wrong , the majority gets the opportunity to reinforce the truth
Infallibility argument
Psychological state of certainty does not guarantee the truth of what we feel certain about
What are our modern certainties?
The point at which critical thinking becomes truly effective is when, instead of simply criticizing other's assumptions, we question our own
holding view of certainty based on open discussion is fine
holding view having gagged freedom of others to speak is not OK!
Freedom to contradict is a condition of intellectual development
Wisdom demands openness to ideas
Atmosphere of intimidation:
only brave speak out and the intellectual development of the timid is limited
Dead dogma
Truths should be alive,
not unthinkingly held
"Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post as soon as there is no enemy on the field"
'On Liberty'
role of faith?
liberal orthodoxy?
progress is achieved through battle of ideas, rather than one side having access to the podium
Galloway and Israeli student
climate change deniers
Nick Griffin on BBC
What's your view?
What are the limits
to my freedom?
physical harm...
At these cutting edges we begin to see why freedom of speech is so fundamental to healthy democratic societies (go back to 8 principles of democracy)
"harm to another"
power by the state can only limit my freedom to prevent
for my own good, physical or moral
Not good enough reasons:
for my happiness
to prevent me harming myself
e.g. freedom of expression -
but not incitement to hatred or violence
What about offence?
What about economic harm?
What about psychological harm?
Some things to consider about Mill's ideas
Are these to be applied differently in the 'adult' v the 'child' realms?
Mill is predominantly concerned with the freedom of the individual

What happens when the concerns of the world are bigger than the individual?
danger of only allowing
freedom of speech
for the tolerant
(beware the tyranny of the masses)
(does this apply equally to children?)
Without deviation
progress is not possible.
Frank Zappa
"always listening to our customers"
How can you trust the state
to act in your best interests?

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
Pastor Niemoller
Full transcript