John Stuart Mill "On Liberty"
1. What is the very simple principle upon which this essay is based? Do you agree?
Why or why not?
2. Why would Mill say, "Despotism is a legitimate mode of government"? Do you
agree? At what point does despotism become no longer acceptable?
3. Why does Mill feel we should be compelled to do certain good deeds?
4. Mill cites three regions of human liberty. What are these? Give an example of each?
5. Mill says, "Though this doctrine ... stands directly opposed to the general
tendency of existing opinion and practice." Give examples from our own society and
times where this opposition to liberty is felt.
6. Does Mill feel it would be evil to stifle a false opinion? Why or why not? Give an
7. On what grounds would others object to Mill's view of liberty, and on what grounds
does he refute these objections?
8. What would Mill say to those who feel we must censor discussion in extreme cases?
Can you give examples of "extreme cases" where our society does censor
9. Should churches have free and open discussions concerning the very existence of God?
In light of the current radio and TV talk shows, are there any topics you feel should be
banned from such public forums?
10. Why must we know the other side of an argument better than our own? Give examples
where this is true.
11. Mill says diversity of opinion is advantageous when "conflicting doctrines ...
share the truth between them; and the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the
remainder of the truth." Give examples of this.
12. Explain and give examples of the "four distinct grounds" necessary for
the mental well being of mankind.
13. In Chapter III Mill argues that not only must opinions be free, but we must be
allowed to act upon our opinions-so long as we do it at our own risk and peril. Provide
examples. of times we are not allowed to act on our own opinions--even when it is at our
own risk and peril.
14. What does Mill say that sounds very much like ideas expressed by the
existentialists of our times?
15. What does Mill feel "brings human beings themselves nearer to the best thing
they can be"? Do you agree? Why or why not?
16. How might "those who do not desire liberty" be rewarded for allowing
other people to make use of it without hindrance?
17. Mill quotes von Humbolt as saying two things are necessary for human development:
freedom and variety of situations. What factors in our society today weaken our freedom
and our "variety of situations"?