On Liberty and Utilitarianism

Review :

If you're looking for the On Liberty portion of this book, would definitely recommend the Penguin Classics version, as it provides a much more in-depth introductions covering relevant political philosophy of the time and biographical information on JSM. It also presents many references for academics that oppose many of JSM's views. This introduction essentially consists of a peeved Dershowitz deriding a fair bit of the material according to his personal view, with an overuse of emotive language etc. Thankfully, though, it doesn't last more than a couple pages.

See my review of On Liberty for the other version if interested.

The On Utilitarianism part of the book (for which my rating reflects) was fantastic, and gave a concise view of a topic that seems to for so long have been misjudged. The distinction between terms like 'motive' and 'intention' are still unclear to me (p.158), though the reference to Bentham likely addresses such an issue is sufficient detail.

On p.201 JSM highlights the secular origin for the concept of 'free will' "men imagined what they called the freedom of the will; fancying that they could not justify punishing a man whose will is in a thoroughly hateful state, unless it be supposed to have come into that state through no influence of anterior circumstances." Here, I wish he had gone into detail as to why accountability by law is justified regardless of predetermined dispositions that lead individual to commit infractions, though he does address rehabilitation and deterrence are other points throughout the same chapter.

On p.204, the discussion on taxation is quite well found, as JSM clarifies that the State does not do more for the rich than it does for the poor (which people use to justify higher tax rates for the wealthy), because it is the rich that would thrive more without the influence/protection of the state, forming monopolies over the poor and effectually making them slaves. And if the rich are taxed at higher rates, why should they not be charged at higher rates for the purchase of the same product as those of a lesser income. (To this, I would presume deal between the poor and the rich to purchase good for one another would mitigate any and all effects, whereas government taxation is more easily overseen and enforceable. JSM also points out the other side, though, that for man and their efforts, given their circumstance for which they did not choose, why should one prosper more than another The right of the workers are protected here, but from the other side, those that provide more for society seem to deserve more, and the rights of the society in what they must give to the individual is protected here.

Other notable quotes:

p.165 "to argue as if no such secondary principles could be had, and as if mankind had remained till now, and always must remain, without drawing any general conclusions from the experience of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absurdity has ever reached in philosophical controversy."

p.163 "defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to such objects as this-that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct on Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments."

p.199 "To have a right, then, is, I conceive to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of."


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