Freedom in “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill


The philosophical work “On Liberty” was written by J. S. Mill in 1859. These are the times of democratic republics’ heyday on the eve of slavery abolition in the US. The main idea centers on the understanding of the concept of individual freedom and the definition of public interference into this sphere. According to Mill, this issue is not new for the philosophical consideration, but, due to the 19th century’s leading political theory of liberalism, the matter is acknowledged to be topical.

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Before starting the analysis of the work “On Liberty,” it is necessary to define the notion of individual freedom in accordance with Mill. Individual freedom is the life sphere which is directly connected only with the individual (Mill, 1859). Individual freedom is supposed to be limited since the individual is not expected to be harmful to other people. Thus, Mill enlarges the borders of freedom (Riley, 2015). An individual has a right for any deeds if these deeds do not harm other individuals. Mill finds freedom socially beneficial, even if a person’s action calls for other people’s indignation and disgust. Mill believes that different opinions are an advantage rather than a disadvantage (Riley, 2015). Besides, he considers unanimous opinions as undesirable. Therefore, Mill proves that there exists a profit of different viewpoints and various lifestyles. Apart from that, he insists on giving freedom to various individual personalities. Mill points out that there is a visible external tendency to lead people to one type. Hence, he appeals for the diversity and states that if people do not see diversity in front of them, they lose their ability for it (Riley, 2015).

The three central chapters are devoted to the relations between the individual, the society, and the state in the framework of the freedom. It is important to note that Mill objects to any limitations of the individual’s freedom from the part of the society and the state, as well as he does admit any restrictions to the individual’s and society’s freedom from the part the state. The author claims that people’s mental well-being requires the freedom of opinions and thought. Therefore, no one has a right to impose their opinion on others. Besides, if the public opinion is true but is unwilling to allow disputing, this opinion loses its rationality and turns into prejudice. Therefore, the public opinion might get less influential and become a mere formality (Riley, 2015).

Mill explains that any person who enjoys the society’s protection is obliged to it. Since people live in the society, they have to follow the behavioral rules in relation to other peoples: to accomplish tasks and duties necessary to defend the society and not to infringe on other people’s interests. What is more, the society has a right to enforce a person to fulfill the duties. Besides, Mill states that the public opinion is likely to press down on the individual. A person’s action which does not violate any established rules might be harmful to another person’s interests. The author claims, that, in such a situation, the public opinion is expected to interfere. In any other situation, people are free to act on their own (Riley, 2015).


In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that the work was written in the framework of the liberal concept. It defines the personal freedom as the life sphere which relates only to the individual. The author underlined the importance and necessity of such freedoms as freedom of opinion, thought, and speech, which is supposed to ensure the diversity of the society. The author limits the freedom of one person by the freedom of another person. In case this border is violated, the state should get involved in the settlement of the conflict.


Mill, J. S. (1859). On Liberty. Web.

Riley, J. (2015). The Routledge Guidebook to Mill’s On Liberty. New York, NY: Routledge.

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