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See On Liberty See Killjoys

Mills believes that:

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

ie. he rejects paternalism. He later says that

It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right, as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.

In other words, he thinks the rule above is important enough to trump any advantages we might get from paternalism. For example, it is possible that banning alcohol might reduce deaths significantly in the UK, but he believes it would have enough negative long-term consequences to offset that. Very, very hard to be sure either way!

I think the utilitarian argument for this is weak, since it would be very easy to justify each deviance on the grounds of "the benefit is so great, it must surely be worth doing it". My proof is the current state of most governments. We have many, many laws that protect us from ourselves, nothing more. Mill would presumably be against seat-belt requirements for adults, but I cannot imagine any modern politician taking this line in the UK.

I intuitively value autonomy and freedom, and feel that this is enough justification against paternalism. I do however also lean on the side of Mills from a pure utility view – paternalism sucks our drive, causes Complacency. (is this just my feeling? Check This). In the long term I feel it robs us of meaning, therefore happiness. It is not worth it.

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Last modified 2019-05-16 Thu 10:20. Contact