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On Liberty and Utilitarianism

von John Stuart Mill

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278474,694 (3.8)2
Together these two essays mark the philosophic cornerstone of democratic morality and represent a thought-provoking search for the true balance between the rights of the individual and the power of the state. Thoroughly schooled in the principles of the utilitarian movement founded by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill nevertheless brings his own unique intellectual energy to issues such as individual freedom, equality, authority, happiness, justice, and virtue. On Liberty is Mill's famous examination of the nature of individuality and its crucial role in any social system that expects to remain creative and vital. Utilitarianism brilliantly expounds a pragmatic ethic based on one controversial proposition: actions are right only if they promote the common good and wrong if they do not. While much of Mill's thinking was eventually adopted by socialists, it is in today's democratic societies--with their troubling issues of crime, freedom of speech, and the boundaries of personal liberty--that his work resounds most powerfully.… (mehr)
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Listened to the first two hours. There were a few insights from the book where I found myself nodding along with Mill, and these cases were the strong point of Utilitarianism for me. He has an ability to boil things down to their essence at times -- one insight that stuck out to me was this passage from Chapter 4:
The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. ... [The] sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. ... No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness.
But Mill also spends a decent chunk of time talking about why this or that portion of his philosophy has been unfairly interpreted or assailed; in these cases, I was reminded of some of the tone that [a:Nassim Nicholas Taleb|21559|Nassim Nicholas Taleb|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1206025993p2/21559.jpg] uses, which is a style of writing I don't personally enjoy.

Broadly, I found the book pretty hard to follow. This is probably due to a combination of the subject matter, the older language, and my decision to listen to it as an audiobook. Perhaps I'd be better served by a more accessible treatment of these ideas. ( )
  rsanek | Dec 26, 2020 |
FG6
  Murtra | Oct 14, 2020 |
This book collects six of the writings of John Stuart Mill, a man without a childhood. The introductory essay includes information about Mill's life, which reminds me of some kind of science experiment on child rearing. After learning Greek by the age of three, Mill went through a rigorous learning regimen to study Latin by the age of seven and other things. His life was pretty interesting, living during the Victorian Era and all of that. He even wrote his opinions on the American Civil War.

Anyway, this collection contains the works On Liberty, Representative Government, Utilitarianism, On The Subjection of Women, The Contest in America, and Inaugural Address Delivered To St. Andrews. All of them contain a writing style reminiscent of the 1800s, which makes sense, since that is when they were written, but people that read a lot of old classics will know what I mean. You can place it in time merely by reading a few sentences. Considering that, it reminds me of the writings of Jules Verne.

All of the works were well done, but some of them seemed to drag on a bit too long. For instance, Mill could have written a whole book on Representative Government. He had a lot of interesting ideas, and he really liked the American System. So that was nice to hear that. You know how it is, you really like hearing praise for something you are a part of, even if you have nothing to do with the genesis of the idea. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Hard to read documents like these without seeing how these sorts of ideas have been partially applied and how political philosophy has built upon these ideas. My opinions are of course informed by my own personal distaste for a lot of current day 'libertarians'. ( )
  brakketh | Jun 5, 2017 |
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Together these two essays mark the philosophic cornerstone of democratic morality and represent a thought-provoking search for the true balance between the rights of the individual and the power of the state. Thoroughly schooled in the principles of the utilitarian movement founded by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill nevertheless brings his own unique intellectual energy to issues such as individual freedom, equality, authority, happiness, justice, and virtue. On Liberty is Mill's famous examination of the nature of individuality and its crucial role in any social system that expects to remain creative and vital. Utilitarianism brilliantly expounds a pragmatic ethic based on one controversial proposition: actions are right only if they promote the common good and wrong if they do not. While much of Mill's thinking was eventually adopted by socialists, it is in today's democratic societies--with their troubling issues of crime, freedom of speech, and the boundaries of personal liberty--that his work resounds most powerfully.

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