Morality In John Stuart Mill's On Liberty

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Out of the approximately seven billion people currently living, it is safe to assume that I vehemently disagree with the actions or morals of at least one of these individuals. However, introspectively speaking, the existence of this person and the manner in which they conduct their life do not seem to diminish the quality of my well being. As a result of this feeling, the question arises as to whether it would be appropriate to force a change in this stranger’s livelihood on behalf of my disdain? John Stuart Mill in his philosophical work, On Liberty, describes his viewpoint on this controversy. To summarize, Mill believes the claim that as long as the selfishly beneficial actions of an individual do not cause harm to others this behavior…show more content…
Patrick Devlin, in his philosophical piece, The Enforcement of Morals, speaks in-depth about the importance of a societal morality. In large part he attests that a society functions properly when a shared morality is present amongst it’s people, therefore any violation of that collective mindset will threaten the foundation that holds a society together . Devlin proceeds his argument even further by stating, “Immorality then, for the purpose of the law, is what every right-minded person is presumed to consider to be immoral” . If the predicament involving the obese man and his actions is analyzed through the lens of Devlin’s notion, it can be claimed that although these actions are not harmful to other members of society, these actions are opposed by the general consensus of people, thus posing a threat to that society’s existence and advocating for immorality. Although this statement seems rather hyperbolic in regards to a sole obese man choosing to eat unhealthy foods, it carries more significance if a group of individuals decide to adopt this lifestyle. Actions that pose no harm in solidarity begin to morph the characteristics of a society if these behaviors begin to spread and cascade. Along with this potential detriment to community values, the actions that once seemed to cause…show more content…
These people are dealt punishments in various forms to either correct their behavior or to serve as retribution. If we assume an obese man choosing to eat unhealthy foods in solidarity is a danger to the moral principles of a society, then according to Devlin’s logic this man should be punished as a criminal. It seems rather unethical to punish a man for eating the foods he wishes to consume especially considering it causes no immediate harm to his community. Nevertheless, in the viewpoint of Devlin’s ideology, this obese man should be criminalized just as a murderer, rapist, or robber would. A murder or a rapist causes a direct harm to an individual and could possibly incite an omnipresent sense of fear within a community, so from a utilitarian standpoint it is clear that these actions should be deemed morally impermissible. However, Devlin and his beliefs on human action fall short in situations in which a person’s behavior causes no harm. From a utilitarian standpoint no individual’s happiness is diminished and the potential for a society’s moral principles to crumble based off of this one action is unjustified. It is also presumptuous to assume that the behavior of one individual will eventually influence others. This concern of widespread adoption is simply one of an infinite number of realities that may develop for this society. In this same
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