John Locke and John Stuart Mill's Definition of Freedom

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 2820
  • Published : October 8, 1999
Open Document
Text Preview
John Locke and John Stuart Mill's Definition of Freedom

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 perspective.
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 14)

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...
tracking img