Whether your interest is Western classical literature (from Homer & Thucydides to Dante's Inferno or Voltaire's Candide), philosophy (from Plato & Aristotle to Descartes & Kant), religion (from Augustine & Aquinas to Schleirmacher & Rahner) or science (from Archimedes and Ptolemy to Galileo, Newton and Einstein, this Club is for you.
May 7, 2019
Published in 1859 (the same year as Darwin's "On the Origin of Species"), John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" is, without doubt, one of the most eloquent and passionate defences of individual liberty ever published. It is a classic work of nineteenth-century social and political philosophy.
Mill imbibed utilitarianism as the governing moral philosophy of his life at his father's knee. He was born in May 1806 in London, England. His father had been a lifelong associate of Jeremy Bentham, the leading 18th Century exponent and developer of David Hume's utilitarian philosophy. He began the study of Greek at the age of 3 and took up Latin at the age of 8. From 6:00 - 10:00 each morning, he recited his lessons, and by the age of 12 had mastered material that was equal to a university degree in the classics. He then took up the study of logic, mathematics, and political economy with the same energy.
This education, aided by a nimble and voracious mind, equipped him for a life of letters. He was a prodigious thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age. In our reading this month "On Liberty" - one of the sacred texts of liberalism - he argues that any democracy risks becoming a "tyranny of opinion" in which minority views are suppressed if they do not conform to those of the majority. He was also a passionate defender of women's rights.
I recall reading the book for the first time in Law School and being inspired by its passionate defence of liberty, equality and free speech. I look forward to reading it again. We will be lead in this reading by one of our patriarchs, Jim Armstrong (who has been a member of TBC as long as it has been around).
The book is available online free of charge at: https://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html
And at Amazon (Canada) in multiple versions & formats:
For anyone not familiar with the work, here are a few inspiring quotes from the book to whet your appetite:
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”
“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion..."