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Reading Notes

Reading philosophical essays is more challenging in that you often have to scan once, read once, and review once before you can adequately explain the author's position. In order to be sure that you are receiving maximum benefit from your time spent studying, try to answer the guide questions posed below. If you cannot answer them, it is time to read or review to be sure you understand the main arguments presented. See more tips here.

John Stuart Mill: On Liberty

  1. Resources
  2. Terms to Learn
  3. Concepts
  4. Guide Questions
  5. Smartboard Notes

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week's reading:

John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism:

Concepts & Terms to Know:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. The subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.

Objectives for this week: These are the learning objectives you should have mastered after attending the lectures and completing the questions below

  1. Explain Mill's notion of higher and lower pleasures relating it to his reading of Plato and Aristotle.
  2. Explain the ways in which Mill modifies Jeremy Bentham's egoistic utilitarianism to account for altruism.
  3. Describe Mill's position on human suffering and the harm principle.
  4. List Mill's three principles of liberty.
  5. Explain Mill' version of justified belief and describe relevant support.
  6. Define openmindedness and dogmatism as presented in the reading.
  7. Explain the connection between public opinion and partial truth.
  8. Explain the value of dissenting opinion in a healthy democracy.


Terms you should know:

  1. higher pleasures: "pleasures of the intellect, ...relating to our feelings and imagination"; also those relating to our moral values.
  2. lower pleasures: bodily and physical pleasures
  3. inferior type: persons who find enjoyment by indulging in the lower pleasures (88-89)
  4. superior type: persons who find enjoyment by indulging in the higher pleasures
  5. altruism: personal sacrifice; "putting other's interests before one's own"
  6. incommensurable: (in this case) two things that are incomparable because they are essentially different. Mill uses this word to describe the comparison of pleasure and pain.


Following is an outline of some key concepts from the chapter.

Guide Questions:

  1. Summarize Mill's harm principle. When are we accountable to society?
  2. When are individuals subject to external control? What are our social obligations to the community?
  3. List the three principles of liberty.
  4. Why should we, as an open society, tolerate dissenting opinions? Explain the role of fallibility in encouraging different points of view.
  5. Why do opinions require justification beyond the scope of belief?
  6. How does the meaning of a given doctrine fall into decline?
  7. Mill argues that "in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule and many-sidedness the exception." Explain why he believes this is the case given his discussion of meaning in the previous segment. In other words, how does a doctrine become a one-sided dogma over time?
  8. What is the connection between public opinion and partial truth?
  9. Name one instance in which individual liberty can be limited.
  10. Mill contends that actions which are individually harmful ought not to be controlled except in one circumstance. Identify the circumstance.
  11. Why should we refrain from imposing the opinion of the majority on everyone?
  12. What are Mill's acceptable limits on free trade?


Smartboard Notes

Smartboard Notes from Week 4 Lecture:















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