Define Liberty. Analyse the contribution of J S Mill in developing the concept of liberty.
Question 9. Define Liberty. Analyse the contribution of J S Mill in developing the concept of liberty.
What do you mean by liberty? Critically examine J.S. Mill’s views on liberty.
Distinguish between negative and positive liberty. Give examples to elaborate your answer.
Examine the negative and positive notions of liberty.
What do you mean by liberty? Distinguish between negative and positive concepts of liberty.
Answer – Introduction
The word liberty has been derived from Latin word ‘Liber’ which means, absence of restraints. If we accept this meaning of liberty then man is free to do whatever he wants to do. But this is the negative aspect of liberty. Infact, liberty is possible only with restraints. According to McKechnie, “Freedom is not the absence of all restraints, rather the substitution of rational for the irrational one.”
- According to Gettell, “Liberty is the positive power of doing or enjoying those things which are worthy of enjoyment and work.”
- According to T.H. Green, “Freedom is the positive power of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying and that too, something we do or enjoy with others.”
- According to C.D. Burns, “Liberty is to grow to one’s natural height and to develop one’s ability.”
- According to Laski, “Liberty is the larger maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be at their best selves.”
- According to McKechnie, “Freedom is not the absence of all restraints, rather, substituting of rational ones for the irrational.”
Contribution of J S Mill in developing the concept of liberty
Mill continues by addressing the question of social interference in suicide. He states that the purpose of liberty is to allow a person to pursue their interest. Therefore, when a person intends to terminate their ability to have interests it is permissible for society to step in.
Mill was great champion of liberty. He said, ‘If all mankind minus one person were contrary opinion, mankind would be no more profited in silencing him. ‘ He asserted man should be free. He should be restricted only from actions which affect others and harm others.
He believes that there are two types of liberty
- Freedom of speech and expression where no censorship is allowed.
- Freedom of action: – He divided freedom of actions into two parts
- Self-regarding actions.
- Other regarding actions.
Apart from freedom of speech and expression Mill believes in freedom of action too. Freedom of making union and association is also part of liberty. But Freedom of action is not absolute like freedom speech and expression. Action of individual which interfere in the life of other is not permitted on the name of Liberty.
Mill divided individual action in two parts
- Self-regarding action: Individual is free to smoke and free, free to walk because it is only related to individuals’ life. It again proves that Mill is an individualist and nobody is allowed to interfere in the domain of life of others.
- Other regarding actions: The action of individual which is affecting the actions of other is not permitted. State will act against the person who is harming others because same amount of liberty is available for everyone. Apart from other regarding action various other limitation and also applied on individuals. Thus, other regarding actions are subject to restrictions. Individual’s freedom can be curtailed for safety and security of state and society. Policeman is not allowed to drink while he is in duty. Limitation on liberty can be imposed during emergency.
Distinguish between negative and positive liberty
- Negative liberty is the minimum non-interference area. It seeks to define and defend a zone of inviolability for the individual.
- John Stuart Mill, another renowned political philosopher and theorist in favour of “Negative Liberty” writes “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. 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. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.” in his essay “On Liberty” in the year of 1859.
- Mill contended that the concept of liberty forbade any intervention with one’s self-regarding activity, despite the fact that there is a thin border separating self-regarding from other-regarding activity. Mill asserted that humanity really has no other rationale for meddling with the person’s liberty unless it was to avoid ‘direct material harm’ to others.
- Positive liberty is the ability to act on one’s free will, as opposed to negative liberty, which is freedom from external restraint on one’s actions. Positive liberty may also refer to freedom from internal constraints
- Negative liberty proponents aim to safeguard at least certain areas whereby an individual is free to do as he desires, whereas positive liberty proponents aim to expand this sphere of self-determined activity as much as possible. For instance, their definition of restrictions to action includes internal restraints as well. In the theory of positive liberty, democratic procedures of shared decision making expand the area of self-determined activity. The focus is on making sure that one has a say in formulating all of the regulations one lives under, rather than on leaving as much of one’s life as possible unencumbered by laws. Since liberty is differentiated from licence and described as living under the ambit of self-made laws, the main focus is on making sure that one has a say in framing all of the legislation one lives under.
|It defines and defends the area of an individual’s life where no external authority can interfere.
|It defines the area of society where an individual can be free with some constraints made by the society and the government.
|It is not concerned with the conditions of the society.
|It is concerned with the enabling conditions of the society.
|It is concerned with explaining the idea of ‘freedom from’.
|It is concerned with explaining the idea of ‘freedom to’.
|This area comes into personal domain of the individual.
|This area comes into social domain of the individual.
|More negative liberty leads to more freedom.
|More positive liberty checks excess of freedom to an individual, which could be an obstruction for social stability.
Since individual is not like an atom. Thus, every act of individual affects others. It means every action of individual is other-regarding. It is subject to interference. Automatically liberty destroy, Mill project individual like an atom, therefore it abstracts. Its reality individual is part community, member of family, school, said Barkar. Barkar says that Mill is profounder of empty liberty and abstract individualism. According to Sabine, Mill neither supported the Locke’s concept of natural rights nor Bentham’s ideas of legal rights. Without rights Liberty becomes meaningless, thus liberty is empty.
Barker criticized the division between self-regarding actions and other regarding actions. He said that Mill failed to understand that individual is part of society or community. Therefore, rejected the distinction between self-regarding actions and others regarding actions. Mill also gave an analogy of bridge. Somebody crossing the broken bridge and policeman who know that bridge is broken can restrict the person to cross the bridge. Policeman is not restraining Liberty of individual but he is protecting the liberty of individual. Liberty implies acting according to wish of others. If somebody knows out interest better than us, then liberty implies obeying the instructions of other too. Critics said that acting according to instruction of others is destruction of liberty.
In conclusion to this analysis of past governments, Mill proposes a single standard for which a person’s liberty may be restricted: 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.