Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mayes, Tessa. "Mill is a Dead White Male with Something to Say." SPIKED REVIEW OF BOOKS 11 (March 2008).

Mill’s own ‘harm principle’ is frequently cited to justify bans and restrictions today. He invented the ‘harm principle’ in his political tract On Liberty in 1859, where he argues: "The only purpose for which power can rightfully be 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" (1). In his excellent, well-timed biography of Mill, British author and commentator Richard Reeves argues that being quoted by both sides in something like the smoking debate "would have pleased" Mill (2). Mill was the public intellectual who believed that truth is discovered through argument rather than being established from on high, so that ideas become a ‘living truth’ through debate rather than a ‘dead dogma’ handed down by our superiors. And as Reeves draws out in his biography, Mill also revelled in intellectual eclecticism. He thought the truth lay somewhere in opposing arguments. As he wrote in On Liberty: "Conflicting doctrines, instead of the one being true and the other false, share the truth between them" (3). Just for the record, he didn’t mean, in a pre-PC relativistic fashion, that ‘all truths are equal’, but rather that truth is arrived at through the clash of ideas, the changing and tempering of views through open debate, rather than being set in authoritarian stone. . . . Read the rest here:

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