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Locke And Mill
John Locke believes that man ought to have more freedom in political society than John
Stuart Mill does. John Locke's The Second Treatise of Government and John Stuart Mill's
On Liberty are influential and potent literary works which while outlining the conceptual
framework of each thinkers ideal state present two divergent visions of the very nature of
man and his freedom. John Locke and John Stuart Mill have different views regarding how
much freedom man ought to have in political society because they have different views
regarding man's basic potential for inherently good or evil behavior, as well as the ends or
purpose of political societies.
In order to examine how each thinker views man and the freedom he ought to have in
political society it is necessary to define freedom or liberty from each philosophers
In The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke states his belief that all men exist in a
state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and person
as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending
upon the will of any other man. (Locke 4) Locke believes that man exists in a state of
nature and thus exists in a state of uncontrollable liberty which has only the law of nature
to restrict it, which is reason. (Locke 5) However Locke does state that man does not have
the license to destroy himself or any other creature in his possession unless a legitimate
purpose requires it. Locke emphasizes the ability and opportunity to own and profit from
property as being necessary to be free.
In On Liberty John Stuart Mill defines liberty in relation to three spheres; each successive
sphere progressively encompasses and defines more elements relating to political society.
The first sphere consists of the individuals inward domain of consciousness; demanding
liberty of conscious in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling;
absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative,
scientific, moral, or theological. (Mill 13) The second sphere of Mill's definition
encompasses the general freedoms which allow an individual to freely peruse a ...life to
suit our own character; of doing as we like... (Mill 13). Mill also states that these
freedoms must not be interfered with by fellow creatures, so long as what we do does
not harm them... (Mill 13), no matter how odd, offensive and or immoral they may seem
to others. The final sphere of Mill's definition of liberty is a combination of the first two. He
states that ...the freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the
persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced and or deceived. (Mill
Locke and Mill's definitions of freedom must be qualified. Since the definitions they present
in their respective literature are distinct from one another, when each philosopher refers
to freedom or liberty they are not citing the same concept. This distinction is necessary
when comparing their positions regarding the amount of freedom man should have in a
political society. What one philosopher considers an overt an perverse abuse of liberty the
other may consider the action completely legitimate and justifiable.
John Locke believes that men should be virtually unrestricted and free in political society.
Locke's rational for this liberal position lies in the twin foundation of man's naturally good
inclinations and the specific and limited ends Locke believes political societies ought to
have. According to Locke the only freedoms men should lose when entering into a political
society are equality, liberty and executive power they has in the state of nature into the
hands of society. (Locke 73) In Locke's ideal society this fails to limit or remove any
freedom from the individual, it only removes the responsibility of protecting these
freedoms from the individual and places it on the state.
John Stuart Mill believes that man's should be strictly limited in political society. Mill differs
from Locke in the basic principle that individual who enjoy the benefits of living in political
societies owe a return for the protection society offers. Mill believes for society to function
properly conduct of societies members should not injuring the interests of one another; or
rather certain interests; which either by express legal provision, or by tacit understanding,
ought to be considered rights (Mill 70) Mill furthers this statement by proclaiming that
society may go even further. As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicial
the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the general question whether
the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering in it, becomes open to
discussion. (Mill 70) This declaration virtually allows the state the authority to intervene in
every instance of human interaction and have total power to alter the exchange as it sees
fit. If this function of the state is considered supreme or is allowed jurisdiction over even
the first sphere of freedoms any further discussion of liberty is ineffective and redundant.
Mill clearly seeks to limit the freedom of men and guaranteeing some measure of residual
power to exercised by the state at will.
Having examined the level or amount of freedom Locke and Mill advocate for man in
political society a closer examination of the rational or reasoning which Locke and Mill used
to develop their position will clarify the issue further. How Locke and Mill viewed man and
his natural inclination toward good or evil was a crucial and fundamental in the formation
of their views regarding political society in general and how much freedom man should
have in it. The importance of this issue lies in the ability of Locke and Mill to legitimize their
conclusion about society based on the necessity of accommodating the natural inclinations
of man. Tyranny can easily be justified under the guise of protecting the weak from the
natural predatory tendencies of stronger men.
John Locke is clear and adamant in his declaration that man is naturally inclined toward
good. Locke belief in the value of man and his ability to act independently in compliance
with natural law contributed more to his views regarding freedom than did his positions
regarding the function of the state. Several positions which Locke holds to be true
regarding man warrant this conclusion. First is Locke's definition of the state of nature as
men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth with
authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. (Locke 19)
Secondly Locke's contention that in the state of nature that man has the right to punish
the crime for restraint and preventing the like offense, which right of punishing is in
everybody; the other of taking reparation, which belongs only to the injured party...
(Locke 8) Locke does not halt the rights of men to punish transgressions against them, this
right of all men in a state of nature even if it entails the power to kill a murderer, both to
deter others from doing he like injury, which no reparation can compensate... (Locke 8)
However Locke does recognize that the right of punishing of transgressions against oneself
has great potential and temptation for abuse and corruption this is why Locke contends
that God has certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of
men. (Locke 9) Locke's definite optimism concerning the nature of man is clearly
transferred to his opinion regarding man's freedom in political society.
John Stuart Mill does not have the same optimistic view of the nature of man which Locke
holds. However he clearly has more faith in humans than the portrait Thomas Hobbes
presents of man in Leviathan. A case can be made for Mill's negative view of humans
because of his utilitarian themes throughout On Liberty which implies that if left to their
own devices man will peruse his own interests even at the costs of his fellow man. Mill
does not make a clear declaration exalting or condemning the nature of man.
However, Mill does make clearly negative statements about the nature of man. There has
been a time when the element of spontaneity and individuality was in excess, and the
social principle had a hard struggle with it. (Mill 57) Mill's insinuation that the free and
unrestricted actions of men can cause conflict is to be expected nonetheless it disguises
Mill's true position on man's nature. It is the subtly inference that the use of spontaneity
and individuality as a method of ordering one's actions somehow runs contrary to the
social principle, which shows a clear mistrust of man's unrestricted and uninhibited side.
Another crucial factor which undoubtedly influenced the amount of freedom Mill an Locke
believed man ought to have in political society was their view regarding the purpose of the
state. Mill and Locke held completely opposite views regarding who should benefit from
the existence of the state the individual or the community.
According to Locke men are driven to congregate and form societies for necessity,
connivance and inclination... (Locke 44) Locke believes that the purpose or end of the
state is provide the necessities and convinces which drove men to form communities. The
state for all intents and purposes is designed to serve the individual and provide a free and
unrestricted environment in which man who is naturally free may prosper and own
The constant threat of interference by other men in a man's freedom and enjoyment of his
property has driven men to seek the safety of a community which exists for the mutual
preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates which I call by the general name
property. (Locke 71) Locke cites three specific reasons for the formation of political
society. First, there wants an established, settled, known law, received and allowed by
common consent to be standard....Secondly, in the state nature there wants a known and
indifferent judge with authority to determine all differences according to the established
law...Thirdly, in the state of nature there often wants power to back and support the
sentence when right, and to give it due execution. (Locke 71) Other necessities and
conveniences which Locke refers to are specifically and clearly defined to prevent any
interpretation and or expansion of the power of the state.
According to Mill the purpose of the state is to facilitate a beneficial two way relationship
between individual and the community. The ends of the state are definitely not devoted to
the promotion of the individuals freedom as they are in Locke's writings. Mill contends the
collective interests of the community render greater reward than the promotion of
John Locke and John Stuart Mill are two philosophers who have left an indelible mark on
the concept of freedom in political societies. John Locke favours greater freedom for man
in political society than does John Stuart Mill does. Their beliefs regarding the nature of
man and the purpose of the state are bound to their respective views regarding freedom
because one position perpetuates and demands a conclusion regarding another.
Locke system for dealing with man freedom and all other related matters severely limits
the role of state to strictly guaranteeing individual freedom. This is the best method of
preventing the perversion and abuse of the role and power of the state. Locke views
simply stem from his faith in man and his potential to succeed independently, which
collectively promotes the prosperity of the state.
Mill does not implicitly trust or distrust man and therefore does not explicitly limit freedom,
in fact he does define freedom in very liberal terms, however he does leave the potential
for unlimited intervention into the personal freedoms of the individual by the state. This
nullifies any freedoms or rights individuals are said to have because they subject to the
whims and fancy of the state.
Mill, On liberty\
Locke, Second treatise on Gov't
Cambridge companion to locke
Word Count: 1983
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