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Political Thought Through The Ages - John Stuart Mill

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The Law of the Land is an intricate and well thought out set of rules and applications that are the result of great thinkers and discourses throughout centuries of human history. Philosophers and writers have shaped civilization and the human conception of law and order in many different ways. Understanding and learning about influential political thinkers shapes discourse in the law and helps those interested and invested in the law to trace its origins.

John Stuart Mill was one such political thinker that shaped the discourse on political philosophies like utilitarianism and free speech. Mill was the son of James Mill, who worked with utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Young Mill was separated from the company of his peers and given a stringent education. By the time he was fourteen years old, he knew Greek, Latin, read all the classics and knew mathematical and economic philosophies. No doubt the kind of childhood most people yearn for. Nonetheless, Daddy Mill got what he wanted and John Mill went on to become an influential philosopher of utilitarian thought that surpassed and digressed from the work of his father and Bentham.

Mill came up with the harm principle, which states that people are free to do, and say, as they wish as long as it does not cause harm to anyone else. Mill doesn’t classify “moral sensitivity” as a type of harm in this principle though.  He believed that free speech was essential to civilized society. Even speech that was offending was not to be censored. He believed that the side that was stronger would eventually win out in debate and that would be the desired and correct outcome. Complete free speech, as long as it did not harm another, would encourage the development and growth of society.

Mill contributed to the field of law in a major way especially with his ideals for free speech and utilitarianism. He was also a women’s rights advocate because of the influence of his wife Harriet Taylor, who he had loved for years before finally marrying her. His publications like On Liberty and the Subjection of Women are still taught in classrooms around the world. Mill believed that governments should be judged based on their ability to foster the individuality of its citizens. To this end, he believed democracy was the answer to this. He did not however advocate for unrestricted freedom and believed that government should be adapted for the time and place, which is a still heavily debated topic in Mill’s work.

Mill and other political thinkers like him have influenced our laws, philosophies, and moralities to a great extent. Learning about them can help expand the discourse in politics and the law.



Wilson, Fred, "John Stuart Mill", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), .

Joseph M. Ghabour
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