“On Liberty” Essay

Free «On Liberty Essay» Essay Sample

During the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill was the most renowned and significant British philosopher. As a logician and an economist, Mill was and still is widely known for his literature on logic and scientific technique, as well as his many journals about life in social and political realm.  He is popularly know for On Liberty Essay (1859) which was highly influential up to today.

*An analysis of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” essay reveals that the individual, through a defined set of natural and civil rights, should be able to make his or her own choices as long as society is not harmed as a whole. By using the ideas that Mill developed through his study of John Locke and Jeremy Bentham; this paper will show how “On Liberty” was a key turning point in the establishment of civil, social, and personal rights. It will also show how Mill pursued a lot of his ideas and established a new perspective on women’s rights through via the influence of his wife Harriet Taylor.

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Mill’s Early Years and Education

John Stuart Mill was begotten to James and Harriet Mill as the first born in a family of nine. His had migrated from Scotland and settled in London, England, for career pursuits, where Mill was born on 20th May, 1806 (Michael, 1952). James Mill began his lifetime friendship with a utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham in 1808. It’s during this association that James shared a philosophy that the behavior and performance of a child greatly depends on the immediate environment during childhood. This made him to have a close supervision of his son’s experiences and relationships, and this had a great impact on John’s entire life. Eventually, James decided to train his son, John to be a logician right from his young stage. He therefore sought to have a thorough supervision of his son’s education.

At the age of three, John started to learn Greek, before taking up Latin during his seventh and eighth years. He would rehearse his lessons every morning from six to ten o’clock, and at twelve years of age, he had acquired knowledge that was equivalent to a classical university degree. With the same vigor, he ventured into study of math, logic and political economy. His father’s associates, who were the most prominent scholars in England, treated him as a junior equal to them all through his younger life. This made him not to have a real childhood experience. The most enjoyable childhood encounters that he could recall were adventures with his father, reading his favorite Robinson Crusoe, music, and a year he lived in France, with Bentham’s relatives. Before this, Mill hadn’t socialized with anyone of his age, and his experience in France gave him a glimpse of a typical family life, as well as a new language.

At the age of sixteen, Mill initiated an association of utilitarians which he named as London Debating Society, to explore and popularize the thoughts of his father and his other associates. According to his autobiography which was published prior to his death in 1873, it was stated that his encounter with the London Debating Society, had revealed him as a product of infatuated educational upbringing. His opinions were seen to be more of clear memorization than factual idealistic thought. His experience as a member of the society made him to learn the significance of political idea, as being more of a way to determine the basic standard that is vital in creating any successful system of governing, than a form of creating the best political structure. Before he was twenty, he published on different political subjects and wrote almost fifty journals. Later in 1823, his father influenced him to withdraw from his political ambitions and he started working at East India Company, where he stayed for thirty five years.

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Adult Life

John got married to Harriet Taylor in 1851, after being in relationship for twenty years and two years away from her first husband’s death (Jacobs, 2002). Their marriage lasted for seven years after which Harriet died, a few months after John retired at East India Company. In her life, Harriet had a great influence on John’s life, as he later recognized that she was more a smart philosopher than himself. He praises her for stirring his impulsiveness and unique philosophy in his life and literature. He also advocated for her ideas of concern such as the rights of women and birth control. After his wife’s death, Mill shifted his adoration towards his step daughter Helen whom he commended as another source of brilliant motivation to his life. In his later years, Mill contributed to numerous idealistic writings (such as Principles of Political Economy and A System of Logic) and newspapers as he pursued his interests on political economy and philosophy.  

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Mill’s political interests, made him to publish a series of political and ethical writings, basing them on his discussions with Harriet, and on other sources such as manuscript writings that he adopted. In 1859, he published one of his most popular writing known as, ‘On Liberty’. In the same year, he also published another essay which he called, ‘Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform’. Later in 1861, his writing on ‘Considerations on Representative Government’ was published.

Despite all of his literature, Mill’s ambition on the existing political situation was not yet quenched. As a result, he vied for Westminster’s Parliamentary seat which he won, having not conducted any campaigns. He saw it improper to try to influence the vote owing to his ideas on political practice. On the floor of the parliament, he aggressively campaigned on 1867 Reform Bill, persuading the government to make thorough constructive amendments on the bill. He diligently advocated for fairness in women representation, and the lessening of state’s debt.

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On 6th May, 1873, John Stuart Mill died leaving an appealing legacy of a successful and radical parliamentarian and a lifetime of reforming and influencing the political and theoretical idea of the day.


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