by John Stuart Mill, W. W. Norton & Company, 1975, 0-393-09252-6
Norton Critical Edition which includes criticism against and
support for Mill.
[p23] The usefulness of an opinion is itself a matter of opinion:
as disputable, as open to discussion, and requiring discussion as
much as the opinion itself.
[p28] But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over
persecution is one of the most pleasant falsehoods which men repeat
after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all
[p33] 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 thought, lest it
should land them in something which would admit of being cosidered
irreligious or immoral? [...] No one can be a great thinker who does not
recognise, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his
intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even
by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for
himself, than by the true opinions of thos who only hold them because
they do not suffer themselves to think.
[p36] He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of
[p44] If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or
who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for
it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some
one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for
either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with
much greater labour for ourselves.
[p46] Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a
question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few
have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the
adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by
the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under
[p47] Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a
reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its
ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather active;
Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than
energetic Pursuit of Good; in its precepts (as has been well said)
'thou shall not' perdominates unduly over 'thou shallt.'
[p49] If Christians would teach infidels to be just to
Christianity, they should themselves be just to infidelity. It can
do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most
ordinary acquantance with literary history, that a large portion of
the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not
only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the
[p51] Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even thought
it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur
severe censure. But the principal [sic] offences of the kind are
such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal,
to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue
sophistically, to suppress facts or agruments, to misstate the
elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion.
[p56] He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his
plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the
ape-like one of imitation. [...] Human nature is not a machine to be
built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for
it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all
sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a
living thing. [...] it will probably be conceded that it is desirable
people should exercise their understandings, and than an intelligent
following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent deviation
from custom, is better than a blind and simply mechanical adhesion to
[p57] It is not because men's desires are strong that they act
ill; it is because their consciences are weak. [...] But society has now
fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which
threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of
personal impulses and preferences.
[p58] I do not mean that they choose what is customary in
preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to
them to have any inclination, except for what is customary.
[p61] [T]here are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of
mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would likely to be
any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt
of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool.
[p62] Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot
feel the use of.
[p63] In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere
refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service.
[p66] The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance
to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that
disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is
called according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of
progress or improvement.
[p67] They [that hold the title of sages and philosophers] are
remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing,
as far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in
the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of
it shall occupy the posts of honour and power.
[p69] A more powerful agency than even all these, in bringing
about a general similarity among mankind, is the complete
establishment, in this and other free countries, of the ascendancy of
public opinion in the State.
[p70] Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no
good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce
social obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of
society renders it indispensible that each should be bound to observe
a certain line of conduct towards the rest. Nor is this all that
society may do. The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others,
or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going to
the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The
offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law.
As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the
interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the
question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by
interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no
room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct
affects the interest of no persons besides himself, or needs not
effect them unless they like (all persons concerned being of ull age,
and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all usch cases, there
should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and
stand the consequences.
It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine to suppose
that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human
beings have no business with oeach other's conduct in life, and that
they should not concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being
of one another, unless their own interest is involved. Instead oof
any diminution, there is need of great increase of disinterested
exertion to promote the good of others.
[p72] It would be well, indeed, if this good office were much more
freely rendered than the common notions of politeness at present
permit, and if one person could honestly point out to another that he
thinks hime in fault, withou being considered unmannerly or
presuming. [...] We have a right, also, in various ways, to actu upon
our unfavourable opinion of any one, not to the oppression of his
individuality [WHATEVER THAT MEANS], but in the exercise of ours. We
are not bound, for example, to seek his society; we have a right to
avoid it (though not to parade the avoidance), for we have a right to
choose the society most acceptable to us. We have a right, and it
may be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his
example or conversation likely to have pernicious effect on those
with whom he associates.
[p76] In like manner, when a person disables himself, by conduct
purely self-regarding, from the performance of some definite duty
incumbent on him to the public, he is guilty of a social offense. No
person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a
policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty. [...] Whenever, in
short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to
an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of
liberty, and placed in that of morality of law. [...] But I cannot consent to
argue the point as if society had no means of bringing its weaker members
up to its ordinary standard of rational conduct, except waiting till they
do sommething irrational, and then punishing them, legally or morally,
[p77] If society lets any considerable number of its members grow up
mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of
distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.
[p79] And it is not difficult to show, by abundant instances, that
to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police, until it
encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the
individual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities.
[p81] It is affirmed that in the country where this tendency [towards a
democratic constitution of society] is most completely realised -- where
both society and the government are most democratic -- the United States
-- the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or
costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable,
operates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law, and that in many parts of
the Union it is really difficlut for a person possessing a very large
income to find any mode of spending it which will not incur popular
disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much
exaggerated as a representation of existing facts, the state of things
they describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable
result of democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public has
a right to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their
[p83] Quote of Edward Henry Stanley British Secretary of State for
India, 'I claim, as a citizen, a right to legislate whenever my social
rights are invaded by the social act of another.' And now for the
definition of these 'social rights.' 'If anything invades my social
rights, certainly the traffic in strong drink does. It destroys my
primary right of security, by constantly creating and tsimulating social
disorder. It invades my right of equality, by deriving a profit from the
creation of a misery I am taxed to support. It impedes my right to free
moral and intellectual development, by surrounding my path with dangers,
and weakening and demoralising society, forom which I have a right to
claim mutual aid and intercourse.'
[p84] Another important example of illegitimate interference with the
rightful liberty of the individual, not simply threatened, but long since
carried into triumphant effect, is Sabbatarian legislation. [...] [I]t may be
allowable and right that the law should guarantee to each the observance
by others of the custom, by suspending the greater operations of industry
on a particular day. [...] It is true that the amusement of some is the day's
work of others; but the pleasure, not to say the useful recreation, of
many, is worth the labour of a few, provided the occupation is freely
chosen, and can be freely resigned.
[p86] A civilisation that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy,
must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests
and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the
trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a
civilisation receives notice to quit the better.
[p88] [I]t was once held to be the duty of governments, in all cases
which were considered of importance, to fix prices, and regulate the
processes of manufacture. But it is now recognised, though not till after
a long struggle, that both the cheapness and the good quality of
commodities are most effecutally provided for by leaving the producers and
sellers perfectly free, under the sole check of equal freedom to the
buyers for supplying themselves elsewhere. [...] [W]hat amount of public
control is admissible for the prevention of fraud by adulteration; how far
sanitary precautions, or arrangements to protect workpeople employed in
dangerous occupations, should be enfored on employers. Such questions
involve considerations of liberty, only in so far as leaving people to
themselves is always better, caeteris paribus, than countrolling them: but
that they may be legitimately controlled for these ends is in principle
[p89] Nevertheless, if a public authority, or even a private person,
sees any one evidently preparing to commit a crime, they are not bound to
look on inactive until the crime is committed, but may interfere to
prevent it. [...] If either a public officer or any one else saw a person
attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and
there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and
turn him back, without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty
consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into
[p90] The making himself drunk, in a person who drunkenness excites to
do harm to others, is a crime against others.
[p93] The interest, however, of these dealers in promoting intemperance
is a real evil, and justifies the State in imposing restriction and
requiring guarantees which, but for that justification, would be
infringements of legitimate liberty. [...] Taxation, therefore, of stimulants,
up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing
that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only
admissible, but to be approved of.
[p94] Not only persons are not held to engagements which violote the
rights of third parties, but it is sometimes considered a sufficient
reason for releasing them from an engagement, that it is injurious to
themselves. In this and most other civilised countries, for example, an
engagement by which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be
sold, as a slave, would be null and void; neither enforced by law nor by
[p97] The almost despotic power of husbands over wives needs not be
enlarged upon here, because nothing more is needed for the complete removal
of the evil than that wives should have the same rights, and should receive
the protection of law in the same manner, as all other persons; and
because, on this subject, the defenders of established injustice do not
avail themselves of the plea of liberty, but stand forth openly as the
champions of power. [...] Instead of his being required to make any exertion
or sacrifice for securing educaation to his child, it is left to his
choice to accept it or not whn it is provided gratis!
[p98] The objections which are urged which reason against State
education do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but
to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education; which is a
totally different thing.
[p99] All attempts by the State to bias the conclusins of its citizens
on disputed subjects are evil; but it may very properly offer to ascertain
and certify that a person possesses the knowledge requisite to make his
conclusions, on any given subject, worth attending to.
[p100] The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is
one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life.
[p102] What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central
depositor, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting
from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to
benefit by the experiments of others; instead of teolerating no
experiments but its own. [...] If the roads, the railways, the banks, the
insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and
the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in
addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now
devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the
employees of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by
the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all
the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would
make this or any other country free otherwise than in name.
[p116] Harriet Taylor, 'Toleration', To all such we would say, think for
yourself, and act for yourself, but whether you have strength to do either
the one or the other, attempt not to impede, much less to resent the
genuine expression of the others.
[p125] 'Case Against Mill' [Anon] The despotism of public opinion in
America is not due to the gradual disapperance of local types of opinion
and sectional habits of mind, and the natural fusion of political creeds
which thus results, -- but to the complete political victory which a false
constitutional system has given to the largest and most ignorant class of
the community overa ll those whose wishes and judgement were entitled to
[p133] The only liberty he [Mill] would deny the nation is the liberty
to be a nation. He distrusts social and political freedom.
[p146] James Fitzjames Stephen, 'Mill's Fallacies', There is a period,
now generally reached all over Europe and America, at which discussion
takes the place of compulsion, and in which people when they know what is
good for them generally do it. When this period is reached, compulsion
may be laid aside. To this I should say that no such period has yet been
reach anywhere, and that there is no prospect of its being reached
anywhere within any assignable time.
[p147] Where, in the very most advanced and civised communities, will
you find any class of persons whose views or whose conduct on subjects on
which they are interested are regulated even in the main by the results of
free discussion? [...] A young man who is educated and so kept under close
and continuous discipline till he is twenty-two or twenty-three years of
age will generally have a much more vigorous and more original character
than one who is left entirely to his own devices at an age when his mind
and his tastes are unformed. Almost every human being requires more or
less coercion and restraint as astringents to give him the maximum of
power which he is capabale of attaining.
[p148] The way in which the man of genious rules is by persuading an
efficient minority to coerce an indifferent and self-indulgent majority,
which is quite a different process.
[p151] Before an act can be treated as a crime, it ought to be capable
of distinct definition and of specific proof, and it ought also to be of
such a nature that it is worth while to prevent it at the risk of
inflicting great damage, direct and indirect, upon those who commit it.
These conditions are seldom, if ever, fulfilled by mere vices.
[p152] If we now look at the different acts which satisfy the
conditions specified, it will, I think, be found that criminal law in this
country actually is applied to the suppression of vice and so to the
promotion of virtue to a very considerable extent; and this I say is right.
[p153] It has been plausably maintained that these laws [on marriage
and inheritence, that is, illegitimate children inherit nothing] bear
hardly upon bastards, punishing them for the sins of their parents. It is
not necessary to my purpose to go into this, though it appears to me that
the law is right.
[p162] Willmoore Kendall, 'The Open Society and Its Fallacies',
Mill's proposals have as one of their tacit premises a false conception
of the nature of societ, and are, therefore, unrealistic on their face.
They assume that society is, so to speak, a debating club devoted above
all to the pursuit of truth, and capable therefore of subordinating
itself--and all other considerations, goods, and goals--to that pursuit.
[p164] In order to practice tolerance on behalf of the pursuit of
truth, you have first to value and believe in not merely the pursuit of
truth but Truth itself, with all its accumulated riches to date. The
all-questions-are-open-questions society cannot do that; it cannot,
therefore, practice tolerance towards those who disagree with it. It must
persecute--and so, on its very own showing, arrest the pursuit of truth.
[p165] Still another tacit premise of the proposals is the
extraordinary notion that the discussion process, which correctly
understood does indeed forward the pursuit of truth, and does indeed call
for free discussion, is one and the same thing with Mill's unlimited
freedom of speech. They rest, in consequence, upon a false conception of
the discussion process. What they will produce is not truth but rather
only deafening noise and demoralizing confusion. [...] Of the latter point we
may sufficienly satisf ourselves, it seems to me, by recalling how the
discussion process works in those situations in which men who are products
of the tradition organize themselves for a serious venture in the puruit
of truth--as they do in, say, a branch of scholarship, an academic
discipline, and the community of truth-seekers corresponding to it.
Such men demonstrably proceed on some such principles as these:
(a) The pursuit of truth is indeed forwarded by the exchange of opinions
and ideas among many; helpful suggestions do indeed emerge sometimes from
surprising quarters; but one does not leap from these facts to the
conclusion that helpful suggestions may come from just anybody. (bi) The
man or woman who mishes to exercise the right to be heard has a logically
and temporally prior obligation to prepare himself for participation in
the xchange, and to prepare himself in the amnner defined by the
community. Moreover (c), from the moment he begins to participate in the
exchange, he must make manifest, by his behaviour, his sencse of the duty
to act as if the other participants had something to teach him--the duty,
in a word, to see to it that the exchange goes forward in an atmoshphere
of courtesy and mutual self-respect. Next (d), the entrant must so behave
as to show that he understands that scholarly investigation did not begin
with his appearance on the scene, that there is a strong presumption that
prior investigators have not labered entirely in vain, and that the
community is the custodian of--let us not sidestep the mot juste--an
orthodoxy, no part of which it is going to set lightly to one side. (e)
That orthodoxy must be understood as concerning first and foremost the
frame of reference within which the exchange of ideas and opinions is to
go forward. That frame of referenc is, to be sure, subject to change, but
this is a matter of meeting the arguments that led originally to its
adoption, and meeting them in recognition that the ultimate decision, as
to whether or not to change it, lies with the community. (uf) The
entrant, unsofar as he wishes to challenge the orthodoxy, must exect
barriers to be placed in his way, and must not be astonished if he is
punished, at least in the sholt term, by what are fashionably called
'deprivations'; he must, indeed, recoginze that the barriers and the
deprivations are a necessary part of the organized procedure by which
truth is pursued. (g) Access to the channels of communication that
represent the community's central rutual (the learned journals, that is to
say) is something that the entrant wins by performing the obligation to
produce a craftsmanlike piece of work. (h) The ultimate fate of the
entrant who disagrees with the orthodoxy but cannot persuade the community
to accetp his point of view is, quite simply, isolation within or
banishment from the community.
[p168] The point about Mill's model is that by giving equal privileges
to those who are in fact opposed to or ignorant of the discussion process,
it constitutes a major onslaught against Truth. [...] It would not be easy,
of course, to transfer the rules of the discussion process set forth here
to the public forum of a society; nor is there any point in denying that
the transfer would involve our openly conceding to society far greater
powers, particularly as regards silencing the ill-mannered, the ignorant,
the irrelevant, than it would ever enjoy under Mill's perscription. Here,
however, two things must be kept in mind. First (however reluctant we may
be to admit it), that society always has, and constantly exercise, the
power to silence. And second, that no society is likely, within the
foreseeable future, to remake itself in the image of either of the two
[p181] If men and women try to create a society in which there is no
fundamental agreement about good and evil they will fail; if, having based
it on common agreement, the agreement goes, the society will disintegrate.
For society is not something that is kept together physically; it is held
by the invisible bonds of common thought. [...] The bondage is part of the
price of society; and mankind, which needs society, must pay its price.
[p185] How are the moral judgements of society to be ascertained? by
leaving it until now, I can ask it in the more limited form that is now
sufficient for my purpose. How is the law-maker to ascertain the moral
judgements of society? It is surely not enought that they should be
reached by the opinien of the majority; it would be too much to require
the individula assent of every citizen. English law has evolved and
regularly uses a standard which does not depend on the counting of heads.
It is that of the reasonable man. He is not to be confused with the
rationalman. He is not expected to reason about anything and his
judgement may be largely a matter of feeling. [...] He might also be called
the right-minded man. [...] Immorality then, for the purpose of the law, is
what every right-minded person is presumed to consider to be immoral.
[p186] I do not think that one can talk sensibly of a public and
private morality any more than one can of a public or private highway.
Morality is a sphere in which there is a public interest and a private
interest, often in conflict, and the problem is to reconcile the two. [...]
No society can do without intolerance, indignation, and disgust; they are
the forces bedind the moral law, and indeed it can be argud that if they
or something like them are not present, the feelings of society cannot be
weighty enough to deprive the individual of freedom of choice. [...] Every
moral judgement, unlless it claims a divine source, is simply a feeling
that no right-minded man could behave in any other way without admitting
that he was doing wrong. It is the power of a common sense and not the
power of reason that is behind the judgements of society.
[p187] We should ask ourselves in thefirst instance whether, looking at
it calmly and dispassionately, we regard it as a vice so abominable that
its mere presence is an offence. If that is the genuine feeling of the
society in which we live, I do not see how society can be denied the right
to eradicate it. Our feeling may not be so intense as that. We may feel
about it that, if confined, it is tolerable, but that if it spread it
might be gravely injurious; it is in this way that most societies look
upon fornication, seeing it as a natural weakness which must be kept
within bounds but which cannot be rooted out. It becomes then a question
of balance, the danger to society in one scale and the extent of the
restriction in the other.
[p189] The fact that adultery, fornication, and lesbianism are
untouched by the criminal law does not prove that homosexuality ought not
to be touched.
[p190] Society cannot live without morals. Its morals are those
standards of conduct which the reasonable man approves. A ratinal man,
who is also a good man, may have other standards. If he has no standards
at all he is not a good man and need not be further considered. If he has
standards, they may be very different; he may, for example, not disapprove
of homosexuality or abortion. In that case he wil not share in the common
morality; but that hsould not make him deny that it is a social necessity.
A rebel may be rational in thinking that he is right but he is irrational
if he thinks that society can leave him free to rebel.
A man who concedes that morality is necessary to society must support
the sue of those instruments without which morality cannot be maintained.
The two instruments are those of teaching, which is doctrine, and of
enforcement, which is the law. If morals could be taught simply on the
basis that they are necessary to society, there would be no social need
for religion; it could be left as a purely personal affair. But morality
cannot be taught in that way. Loyalty is not taught in that way either.
No society has yet solved the problem of how to teach morality without
religion. So the law must base itself on Christian morals and to the
limit of its ability enforce them, not simply because they are the morals
which are taught by the established Church--on these points the law
recognizes the right to dissent--but for the compelling reason that
without the help of Christian teaching the law will fail.
[p195] Albert William Levi, 'The Value of Freedom', Intereference with
public discussion in an attempt ot safeguard sacred institutions from
attack is intrinsically an illegitimate power, and even when public
opinion is itself at one with coercive government in this attempt, it
cannot be vindicated.
[p205] David Spitz, 'Freedom and Individuality', But Mill valued
liberty and diversity precisely because he rejected the possibilty of such
an absolutistic conception of morality.
[p221] And this, too, is why, howerver we define it, individuality
cannot be understood save in such terms as incorporate the elements of
spontaneity, diversity, and the latitued of choice provided by freedom of
expression and mutual criticism.
[p223] For happiness, as Mil was later to argue in his Autobigraphy,
eludes men when they seek it as a direct or immediate aim; it is rather a
by-product that comes to men in the course of their other activities.
[p229] Mill, like any other political philosopher, is writing a book of
political principles, not a catalogue of do's and don'ts. As such, his
book cannot anticipate all contigencies, nor can his examples don more
than illustrate his meaning. [...] If, therefore, a man were actually to
express a willingness to contract himself into slavery, it could only be
because the circumstances which surround him are such as to 'force' him
into this action; seeing no feasible alternativ, he finds himself
compelled to become a slave.
[p230] One of the moste glaring faults for which Mill's essay can
properly be taken to task is its curious failure to deal with wahat was
then, and remains now, one of the greatest sources of danger to individual
freedom--the power of social and economic organizations.
[p238] What is fundamental to Mill's whole approeach, of course, is the
altogether salutary reminder that we are not infallible creatures; that
truth cannot be attaned in any complete and final sense; that what we take
to be truth must therfore be held tentatively and undogmatically; and that
wemust always be prepared, as rational men, to subject the beliefs we hodl
to be true to the test of new data and new experiences.
[p250] H. L. A. Hart, 'Immorality and Treason', We must ask a question
at two different levels which Sir Patrick [Devlin] never clearly enough
identifies or separates. First, we must ask whether a practice which
offends moral feeling is harmful, independently of its repercussion on the
general moral code. Secondly, what about repercussion on the moral code?
Is it really true that failure to translate this item of general morality
into criminal law wil jeopardize the whole fabric of morality and so of
[p252] 'Morality, what crimes may be committed in thy name!'