[lit-ideas] Re: Other philosophers

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 28 Jan 2014 06:23:51 -0800 (PST)

Of course, government by representation raises issues of accountability and 
questions as to how much modern democracy can be said to be a rule of the 
people, or even a rule of the majority, rather than a rule of an occasionally 
replaceable political oligarchy. Thus, Mill has certainly been influential in 
various ways, not all of which are unequivocally positive.


On Tuesday, January 28, 2014 1:09 PM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> 
Well, it's difficult to measure impact on life, but certainly the concept of 
government by representation (not invented by Mill, probably, but developed by 
him) is important to the political discourse of modern democracies, and perhaps 
also to their functioning. One major difference between Athenian democracy and 
modern democracies is supposed to be that Athenian democracy did not appear to 
have the concept of government by representation, everything depended on direct 
participation of citizens who frequently needed to be physically present at the 
assemblies etc. Government by representation enables democracies to function 
when their territorial size and population numbers, as well as other factors, 
no longer permit direct participation of all citizens in the political process. 
Of course, Mill also provided influential arguments in support of the freedom 
of speech and press (on utilitarian grounds), and of toleration. (Religious 
toleration had been
 previously defended by Locke, but Mill broadened the concept.)


On Tuesday, January 28, 2014 11:26 AM, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Marlena wrote:

"I wonder if any of you might be so gracious as to enlighten me as to
whether or not Mill and Bentham really have had an impact on either
"philosophical" or "regular" or everyday life?"

Mill's 'On Liberty' is a must read for anyone studying political
philosophy or political theory. In it, Mill provides a critical limit
on democracy, in order to guard against, in his words, the tyranny of
the majority. Here is this limit, in his own words:

"The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as
entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the
individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the
used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral
coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for
which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in
interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is
self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be
rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against
his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical
or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be
compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so,
because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others,
to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for
remonstrating with him, or
 reasoning with him, or persuading him, or
entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any
evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which
it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some
one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is
amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which
merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over
himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

This essay was also influential in forming the conviction among
liberal theorists that one virtue of democracy was that it could
foster an on-going conversation between citizens, which would lead to
humanity's continued improvement
 in both knowledge and character.
Hence, freedom of speech and public debate, as well as the principle
of toleration, are considered by many as not only useful, but a moral
imperative. Again, Mill in his own words:

"The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest
on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them
unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the
attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we have
done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we
have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching
us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better
truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving
it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach
to truth as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of
certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of
attaining it."

I don't know how to measure the influence of Mill, or any other
philosopher, or person, for that matter. I leave that to those who
make up lists. Rorty wrote that he didn't want to stop religious
people from quoting, in public debate, from their authoritative texts
because he wanted to ensure that he would be able to quote from Mill.
Whatever one thinks of Rorty, I would at least agree that it is still
worthwhile to quote from Mill.

Shivering on the steppes,

Phil Enns

To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: