JS Mill, On Liberty

Sunday 18 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Hammerson Room, Barbican Academy in One Day

Few texts have sustained such extensive reference and quotation in Anglo-American politics as JS Mill’s classic.

Mill’s famous ‘Harm Principle’ – that government power may only be justifiably used to prevent harm to others, not to improve one’s own good – still provides the ground on which numerous debates around civil liberties, lifestyle choices, and more recently ‘nudge theory’ are fought. Moreover, Mill’s rousing defence of the liberty of the press never ceases to be relevant. Yet it is imperative to understand the aims and context of On Liberty if Mill’s arguments around press liberty and the Harm Principle are to be properly understood – as the endless argumentation about what ‘harm’ means shows.

Attending to the whole of On Liberty, in the spirit of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, shows these familiar ideas in a new light. By tackling this canonical work as a whole we gain valuable insights into Mill’s inspiring defence of personal autonomy, and see quite how at odds Mill would have been with contemporary political rhetoric – just as he was in his own time.

Listen to the debate


Georgios Varouxakis
professor of the history of political thought, Queen Mary University of London; author, Mill on Nationality

Nadia Butt
national coordinator, Debating Matters Competition, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Jacob Reynolds consultant, SHM Productions
Recommended readings
Against the tyranny of the majority

John Stuart Mill on why we need to awake from the ‘deep slumber of decided opinion’, as told to Tim Black.

Tim Black, spiked, 2 April 2014

Liberal Colonialism, Domestic Colonies and Citizenship

Volume 33, Number 3, pp. 491-523

Barbara Arneil, History of Political Thought, 1 January 2012

On Liberty; With an Introduction by W. L, Courtney

J.S. Mill, The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd, 10 January 2011

Welfare, and Mill’s Moral Theory

D. R. Lyons, Oxford University Press , 27 October 1994

Mill on Liberty: a defence

K. Gray, Routledge & Kegan Paul; London, Boston Melbourne and Henley, 18 January 1983

Mill and Marx: Individual Liberty and the Roads to Freedom

P. Smart, Manchester University Press, 1969

John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

J. Hamburger, John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control, 1969

Mill and Liberalism

pages: introduction, xii, 28, 104, 117

Maurice Cowling, Cambridge University Press , 18 January 1963

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