On Liberty and Other Essays - John Stuart Mill

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On Liberty and Other Essays - John Stuart Mill

Collected here in a single volume for the first time On Liberty Utilitarianism Considerations on Representative Government and The Subjection of Women...

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Review of "On Liberty and Other Essays - John Stuart Mill"

published 30/11/2017 | a-true-ben
Member since : 30/06/2001
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I guess it's finally Ciao! then... (27/11/17)
Excellent
Pro A cheap edition containing Mill's best known work
Cons This edition has now been replaced; I'd only go for this version if it was cheap
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"Four Essays at a Bargain Price"

This volume contains what are undoubtedly Mill’s two best-known and most-studied works, along with two other pieces of his political philosophy. The essays herein are not the most definitive statements of Mill’s views, but represent his attempts to write for a general audience.

In the titular On Liberty, he defends the view that the only justification for coercing a competent member of a civilised society is to prevent harm to others, thereby rejecting the widely held belief that it is the business of law or society to uphold moral standards or to prevent individuals from harming themselves. This ‘harm principle’ was arguably instrumental in the liberalisation of attitudes towards blasphemy, homosexuality, and obscenity, though it seems that many present governments are increasingly keen to regulate unhealthy foods and lifestyles.

This volume also contains Mill’s essay on Utilitarianism, defending the greatest happiness principle, which Mill saw as the ultimate test for all conduct, from various criticisms such as that it neglects the finer things in life, reducing men to the level of beats, that regarding happiness as the sole end in life means neglecting virtue, and that focus on aggregate wellbeing is contrary to justice.

The other two essays are less-studied, but nonetheless help to present a more rounded picture of Mill’s views. The Subjection of Women makes plain that Mill’s defence of liberty was intended to apply to both sexes. To a modern reader, arguments that women should be allowed to work outside the home or to vote may seem of little practical importance, but the arguments that Mill employs are still interesting – for example, he argues that we have no evidence what women are capable of unless we let them try and, hence, their supposed inability to perform some function cannot be good reason to exclude them from it (either the supposition is false, in which case it is no reason, or it is true, in which case further exclusion is unnecessary).

Considerations on Representative Government, meanwhile, is a wide-ranging work that seeks to show how popular government should operate, thereby complementing On Liberty’s account of what government should not do. Some of Mill’s proposals, such as public voting and multiple votes for the more educated, are unlikely to find much favour today, though other recommendations, such as proportional representation may find a more sympathetic audience.

While Mill’s Complete Works are freely available online, to find these four essays collected in a single volume and at a reasonable price makes this very handy for those interested in Mill’s moral and political thought.

Aside from Mill’s own writings, there’s an introduction and notes by John Gray which focuses quite heavily on the problem of reconciling Mill’s liberalism and his utilitarianism. While this is of some help, I do think Gray is rather too focused on his own concerns, rather than with Mill’s text.

It’s worth noting that this edition (pictured) has been replaced by a new edition, containing the same four essay with introduction by Mark Philp and Fred Rosen. If you’re buying new, then that’s the only one you’ll find and, to be honest, I’d recommend it ahead of this older version (although the essays themselves are the same). That said, if you’re not too bothered about the extra material, you might find second hand copies of this version cheaper. Do be warned though that the pagination is different, so you won’t easily be able to compare passages of text between the older and newer editions.

I first purchased this in 2000, at the RRP of just £2.99. I remember a student I was teaching remarking on that since by the time (around 2013) it was around £7. There’s inflation for you! The newer Philp/Rosen version is currently £6.34 (paperback) or £4.68 (Kindle) on Amazon.

(Some of the specific criteria are not really applicable.)

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Comments on this review

  • mikemelmak published 02/12/2017
    Very clear and succinct review of a not too easy to read book!
  • ravingreviewer published 01/12/2017
    vh
  • mumsymary published 01/12/2017
    best wishes
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Product Information : On Liberty and Other Essays - John Stuart Mill

Manufacturer's product description

Collected here in a single volume for the first time On Liberty Utilitarianism Considerations on Representative Government and The Subjection of Women show Mill applying his liberal utilitarian philosophy to a range of issues that remain vital today - issues of the nature of ethics the scope and limits of individual liberty the merits of and costs of democratic government and the place of women in society. In his Introduction John Gray describes these essays as applications of Mill's doctrine of the Art of Life as set out in A System of Logic. Using the resources of recent revisionist scholarship he shows Mill's work to be far richer and subtler than traditional interpretations allow.

Product Details

EAN: 9780192833846

Type: Fiction

Genre: Classics

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Title: On Liberty and Other Essays

Author: John Stuart Mill

ISBN: 0192833847

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