Mills essay on individuality

Only in this way can we discover and cultivate the values that best suit our individual requirements for self-fulfillment and happiness.

Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill

By cultural diversity, Humboldt is not referring principally to cultural artifacts, such as art and literature. He is thinking of other people who, as unique individuals, have a wide variety of values to offer to their friends and acquaintances. Humboldt says that we should develop many sides of our nature, not just one.

Mill on Individuality

But it is not enough merely to apply our energies to a variety of objects—say, by going to a concert on one day and reading a book on the next. Rather, self-cultivation requires that we actively engage our powers and abilities in a variety of situations, and then integrate those powers and abilities into a unique whole, the cultivated individual.

This kind of cultivation is best achieved by interacting with others. To some extent, of course, we must have something in common with those others, or else there would not exist a basis for friendship or love. But in a culturally diverse society there is also a great deal we can learn and enjoy from others, who have their own unique talents and perspectives. The more intimate the relationship, whether on an intellectual or an emotional level, the more we can benefit from that relationship by partaking of others.

This individual vigor, then, and manifold diversity combine themselves in originality; and hence, that on which the whole greatness of mankind ultimately depends—towards which every human being must ceaselessly direct his efforts, and of which especially those who wish to influence their fellow-men must never lose sight: individuality of energy and self-development.

Just as this individuality springs naturally from freedom of action, and the greatest diversity of the agents, it tends in turn directly to produce them. Humboldt is here pointing out the synergistic relationship between freedom and cultural diversity on the one hand, and individuality on the other hand—resulting in what we may call a spontaneous cultural order. Freedom and a diversity of situations breed individuality; and individuality, in turn, generates even more freedom and diversity, which in turn promote even greater individuality—and so on, indefinitely.

This mutual and reciprocal causation is the engine of cultural progress, as new talents are developed, new relationships are formed, and new ideas are discovered. Another way of expressing this notion is in terms of the culture of the individual and the culture of a society. Individual culture and social culture go hand in hand, each developing and progressing alongside the other, and each stimulating the other in diverse and unforeseeable ways.

A diverse social culture, with its variety of situations, stimulates the characters of particular individuals, who then become less uniform and more diverse. And as these individuals interact with one another in personal relationships, and as they develop further, they create even more cultural options, a wider range of values from which to choose. This process is, in effect, a marketplace of cultural values in which, under a regime of freedom, new and unforeseeable benefits are continuously emerging. But unlike economic exchanges, which provide us with external goods, cultural exchanges provide us with internal goods—goods of the mind and soul, so to speak.

These internal goods can be acquired only through the active participation of all parties, as each strives to develop his or her individuality. Quoting Humboldt:. Now, whatever man receives externally is only like the seed. It is his own active energy alone that can turn the most promising seed into a full and precious blessing for himself. It is beneficial only to the extent that it is full of vital power and essentially individual. The highest ideal, therefore, of the co-existence of human beings seems to me to consist in a union in which each strives to develop himself from his own innermost nature, and for his own sake.

Social culture is a spontaneous order—an order that arises from the purposeful and self-seeking actions of many diverse individuals. I therefore deduce, as the natural inference from what has been argued, that reason cannot desire for man any other condition than that in which each individual not only enjoys the most absolute freedom of developing himself by his own energies, in his perfect individuality, but in which the external nature itself is left unfashioned by any human agency, but only receives the impress given to it by each individual by himself and of his own free will, according to the measure of his wants and instincts, and restricted only by the limits of his power and his rights.

Government should only protect individual rights; beyond that it should leave individuals free to cultivate themselves, and thereby generate a spontaneous cultural order. George H. Smith Facebook.

What is Individuality and What is Essential for Genius to Develop and Thrive: John Stuart Mill

Quoting Humboldt: Now, whatever man receives externally is only like the seed. Smith George H.

It is a work so established that a decent academic bookstore, in this day and age, may carry three or four editions. It is the founding document of the tradition of liberalism, certainly liberalism of the English and American kind. As you read through the following 15 passages from it, Mill's sentences, you may also wonder if it is a mess. It is my own response to that idea [1] that prompts me to begin by putting the evidence of so many of so much of the essay before you. Maybe it is no bad thing, either, where there has been endless dispute about the understanding of a thing, to have it served up on a plate straightaway.

That principle is 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 civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.

Mill’s Greek Ideal of Individuality

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. Those interests, I contend, authorise the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control only in respect to those actions of each which concern the interest of other people.

The latter case, it is true, requires a much more cautious exercise of compulsion than the former. To make anyone answerable for doing evil to others is the rule; to make him answerable for not preventing evil is, comparatively speaking, the exception. Yet there are many cases clear enough and grave enough to justify that exception. When I say only himself, I mean directly, and in the first instance; for whatever affects himself, may affect others through himself; and the objection which may be grounded on this contingency will receive consideration in the sequel.

The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it.

Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals. This conduct consists But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself. Acts injurious to others require a totally different treatment.

Encroachments on their rights No person is an entirely isolated being I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself may seriously affect When, by conduct of this sort, 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.


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  • John Stuart Mill on Individual Liberty Essay;

Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it.

Would it be a legitimate exercise of the moral authority of public opinion? The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself Secondly, that for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, if society is of the opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection. His voluntary choice is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable, or at least endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole best provided for him by allowing him to take his own means of pursuing it.

These are cases in which Still, do Mill's passages 1, 2 and 15 make it clear enough what he is up to? You may say it is the endeavour of arguing what laws the state or government is right to enact in order to force people to act and live in certain ways, and what moral or social as against legal pressures the society in question is right to bring to bear on them for the same purpose. Mill is is looking into the questions of to what extent a state and society can restrict the liberty or freedom of its members.

He is establishing to what extent a state and society can interfere in that freedom of individuals that consists in their voluntariness, their being able to do what they want. He is establishing, more particularly, to what extent a state and society can compel or coerce or go against the wills of individuals, as distinct from taking action to help or benefit individuals or improve their lives by providing health care, old-age pensions, and so on.

That is not quite right, or at any rate it is very misleading. It mistakenly assumes, as Mill seems to assume, that the two things, restrictions on liberty and help or benefit, can be separated. But of course help to members of a society by the state will involve coercion by the state, if only in the form of income-tax laws to raise the money for the help. In fact Mill's real concern, as passages 2 and 15 in particular make clear, is what liberty or freedom there ought to be on the prior assumption that there will be no significant governmental limits on individual liberty in order to help individuals -- the same or other individuals -- by way of anything like a welfare system or National Health Service.

That is, his concern is not all possible restraints on liberty, but the possible restraints that are left after other possible restraints, of much importance in other political philosophies, are ruled out by an assumption or fiat.

Mill individuality essay - Words | Cram

With respect to a large category of freedoms -- freedoms from kinds of taxation and the like -- he does not open the question of whether they are to be significantly limited. He assumes freedoms of this kind are something like sacrosanct. That is not to say his remaining questions are not of importance, or that his assumption has not been shared to a greater or lesser extent in the tradition of libralism.

From passage 2 you might suppose there is no doubt about Mill's answer to the questions, his principle of liberty.

John Stuart Mill: On Liberty (Chapter 3–“Of Individuality, As One of the Elements of Well-Being”)

It is that the state and society can intervene in the life of an individual against his will, either by the force of law or public opinion, if and only if by his action he causes harm or the risk of it to someone else other than a fully-consenting partner or to the public. Harm to himself or to consenting or combining partners is not enough for intervention. If he is doing wrong without doing harm to others, or going against his own good, he is to be left at liberty to do so.

To this first understanding of Mill's principle, you need to add from the widening passage 4, importantly, that the harm in question can be done by omission as well as commission.

Chapter 5: Individuality

This is what is still most commonly reported, by casual readers and certainly by politicians of lesser education, as Mill's principle of liberty. So too in talk of things from which other people need protection, evil, prejudicial effects, injury, damage, mischief, and the like. What is to count as harm? Consider the matter of an individual's not making any effort to contribute anything to himself or to society, but, as his detractors say, living off society.

Remember that that one can do harm by omission. It is plain that until harm is defined, it is uncertain whether the given principle of liberty allows us to interfere with him, make him work. It is plain, further, that this principle is in general unclear. There are other proofs, as indeed they are, of the uselessness of this first understanding of Mill. Until more is said, a homosexual teacher's advocating the gay life to children may or may not be a case of harming them.

A union's demanding equal pay for all of a group of its members may or may not be a harm to more diligent workers in the group. Also, it is possible and arguable that any real self-harm will also in effect be a harm to others -- by way of making a self-harming individual less able to rescue or sustain others, maybe keep her own children from harm.

In fairness to Mill it needs to be added that he himself reports more or less this very problem. He does not think his own talk of harm and the like is sufficiently explicit. Look at passage 5, a page or two after it was announced, in passage 2, that a man's harming himself and consenting partners is not ground for legal or social interference. If so, a lot of state and social interference will be justified.