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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, January 08, 2004

On Liberty

I have been reading "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill. It is really interesting considering that Mill wrote this essay during 1800's England. His premise is that we should be able to do whatever we want as long as we don't hurt anyone else. He bashes Christianity, the government, the people of his time and basically anyone who says that we should conform to accepted norms. I feel like he was not especially popular with his contemporaries. I am a bit surprised he wasn't executed. I don't agree with everything he says, but he makes some really important points. He says that for someone to believe in a specific issue, he should examine closely all opposition to that issue so that he can effectively argue against the opposition. He says it is important for people to think for themselves, and do not what is customary, but what they individually believe is correct. He states that all opinions, because they are opinions, should be heard and not deterred as long as they are not causing danger to others. I can't sum it up as well as he says it, so here are some quotes that I like: "People are accustomed to believe...that their feelings on subjects of this nature are better than reasons and render reasons unnecessary." "We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still." "Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of though, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral?" "The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity and even moral preference are exercised only in making a choice." "The mental and moral, like the muscular, powers are improved only by being used." I think this is my favorite: "Persons of genius are, by definition, more individual than any other people - less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of molds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character."

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