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Autor: anton • August 27, 2010 • 2,034 Words (9 Pages) • 1,112 Views
John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all dealt with the issue of political freedom within a society. John Locke's "The Second Treatise of Government", Mill's "On Liberty", and Rousseau's "Discourse On The Origins of Inequality" are influential and compelling literary works which while outlining the conceptual framework of each thinker's ideal state present divergent visions of the very nature of man and his freedom. The three have somewhat 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 should have in a political society, it is necessary to define freedom or liberty from each philosopher's perspective. 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." (Ebenstein 373) 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, or reason, to restrict it. (Ebenstein 374) 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 necessary for being free.
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." (Ebenstein 532) 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..." (Ebenstein 533) Mill also states that these freedoms must not be interfered with by "fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them..." (Ebenstein 533), 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." (Ebenstein 535)
Rousseau thought that man was born weak and ignorant, but virtuous. It is only when man became sociable that they became wicked. (Cress, 80) Since civil society makes men corrupt, Rousseau advocated "general will", more precisely the combined wills of each person, to decide public affairs. General will would become the sovereign and thus it would be impossible for its interests to conflict with the priorities of the citizens, since this would be doing harm to itself. Virtue came from the freedom of men to make decisions for the good of the community. The general will meant giving up individual rights for the betterment of the collective group. Therefore civil liberties were an oxymoron, since civilized society needed laws and rules to function, while liberty was the freedom to act as one pleased. It is therefore impossible to reconcile the natural man with the citizen. So it was responsibility of the government to attain freedom, equality, and justice for all its citizens.
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 or 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 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 man should lose when entering into a political society are to judge and punish those who infringe on his liberty and estate. (Ebenstein 381) 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 men 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 injure the interests of one another; or rather certain interests; which either by express legal provision, or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered rights" (Ebenstein 537) 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." (Ebenstein 537)
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 be exercised by the state at will.
Having examined the level or amount of freedom Locke, Rousseau, and Mill advocate for man in political society, a closer examination of the rational or reasoning which they used to develop their position will clarify the issue further. The view of man and his natural inclination toward good or evil is 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 their ability to legitimize their conclusions about society based on the necessity of accommodating