Stuart Mill On Liberty Analysis

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The role of liberty and its limitations are the central point of Stuart Mill 's essay, On Liberty, particularly in the context of the lines separating one individual 's liberties from the next. On the surface, Mill 's argument seems to progress logically, each of the points fitting together to describe a type of liberty that defines what is within an individual 's rights. In particular, the case of suicide seems to fit into Mill 's idea of things that are within a person 's rights. However, closer inspection of the various definitions that Mill provides indicates that this is not the case, despite the fact that it seems to be a self regarding act. In this essay, I will outline the argument in favor of suicide as a part of an individual 's freedoms,…show more content…
To begin with, Mill establishes the principle of utility focuses on man as a progressive being (Ch 1, p 11). He borrows from Wilhelm Humboldt, stating that man must permanently move towards the development of his faculties, which itself is dependent on freedom and individuality (Ch 3, p 2). Mill argues this must manifest in a diversity of living experience, as he says "persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow"(Ch 3, p 11). From these ideas, the importance of variety of lifestyles, and the liberty to pursue, such becomes evident, and from this, it can be argued that suicide can be considered one of such diverse varieties of choices to pursue. Second, the harm principle represents an important interpretation of the lines drawn between the liberties of people and their impacts on others. When he says "that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others [but] his own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant"(Ch 1, p 9). In the context of suicide, this quote addresses several factors that seem to indicate suicide is within a person 's liberties. Suicide can seem to be a self regarding act, as it is not an…show more content…
While he acknowledges that a fault against his entire definition of liberty is the consideration of any degree of indirect harm as part of non-consensual harm towards others, Mill makes an attempt to clarify what instances count as harm worthy of restriction of liberties. In the process, Mill states that "[if] a person is led to violate a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out of the self-regarding class, and becomes amenable to moral disapprobation in the proper sense of the term"(Ch 4, p 10). Using this distinction of harm, suicide continues as the complete abandonment of any and all obligations to other persons. It must be clarified that, in this situation, it is not the act of suicide itself that must be punished, but rather the violation of social contracts. However, by the very nature of suicide, punishment cannot be administered. In this case, the role of risk of harm—part of Mill 's specific wording—becomes key in the interpretation. Because suicide is an absolute, resulting in the abandonment of all social contracts and subsequently causing harm through absence and negligence, the prohibition of suicide is
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