MILL: On Liberty [Chapters I-II]

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

CHAPTER I: Introductory

  • The subject of this essay is not Free Will, but rather social and civil freedom; specifically, the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.
  • History is rife with instances of the conflict between authority and liberty. But most of these instances in history are those between rulers and there subjects. Now, we realize that a conflict can arise even in democratic governments where the will of the rulers are consistent with the will of the people. This is called “tyranny of the majority.” In such a form of government, the majority may oppress a minority sect. Thus, the limitations on the power of government are not obviated even in democratic governments.
  • Tyranny of the majority is worse than traditional tyranny of political officials because the majority’s opinions and coercions penetrate into every detail of life.
  • Determining the rules of conduct has proven to be difficult. No two ages or countries have entirely agreed on a set of rules because they have not determined a fundamental principle whereby they can establish such a set of universal rules. People merely try to justify their own inclinations as in accordance with an ideal of justice rather than realize that their moral judgment is merely preference; and they are zealously attached to their own opinions.
  • The likings and dislikings of a society establish the rules of a society under penalty of law or opinion.
  • People have incorrectly attempted to alter the feelings of mankind on particular points on which they were considered heretical, rather than make a common cause for the defense of freedom with all heretics. Mankind is naturally intolerant, especially in things they care about; thus, religious freedom has hardly been realized anywhere.
  • The supreme principle: the only purpose for which power can legitimately be exercised over a person against his will is to prevent harm to others. It is not a sufficient warrant to interfere with a man’s liberty for his own good or because it is right. These are merely the attempts of other men to impose their opinions about what constitutes a good life and justice on others.
  • This doctrine only applies to people who have attained the capacity to guide their behaviors to their own benefit and improvement. Thus, this principle does not apply to children or barbarians. These classes do require some interference in their liberty until they can they have attained a capacity for self-sufficiency.
  • The principle of utility – the promotion of the greatest good for the greatest number of people – is the source of all ethical determinations. There are acts, which benefit others, that a man can be compelled to perform, such as testifying in court, providing for the common defiance of the society, and certain acts of benevolence. These acts are very few, and the determination of compelling such acts must be made after much consideration. On the other hand, if anyone harms another, it is a prima facie case for punishing him.
  •  There is a sphere of action which society only has an indirect interest. That sphere is all acts which only affect the individual directly, and is the appropriate region of human liberty [The counterargument that what affect an individual indirectly affects society will be refuted in a later section of the treatise]. This sphere demands liberty of conscience – i.e. thought and emotion.  The freedom to speak and write one’s opinions follows from this first liberty as an inseparable part of it, though one will argue that speech and writing affect others within society. The second liberty is that of tastes and pursuits, so long as it does not harm others, regardless of whether others find our tastes and pursuits foolish, perverse, or wrong. The third liberty is that of uniting for any purpose other than harming others provided the persons be of full age and not coerced or deceived.
  • Ancient commonwealths believed they were justified in regulating actions and thoughts of their citizens because the society had an interest in the bodily and mental discipline of its subjects [think Sparta under the reforms of Lycurgus]. This might have been warranted in small republics that were in constant danger of being attacked by their neighbors, but it is not justified in modern societies composed of massive political communities.
  • Man is naturally intolerant and desirous to impose his opinions on others. A strong barrier must be raised against this tendency.

 

“Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

 

“No one, indeed, acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one.”

 

“Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized.”

 

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

 

“To make any one answerable for doing evil to others, is the rule; to make him answerable for not preventing evil, is, comparatively speaking, the exception.”

 

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

 

Mill argues that the only circumstance in which a government can legitimately interfere with an individual’s liberty is to prevent harm to others. This type of definition is open to various interpretations. I am interested to read some of the examples Mill will use to illustrate his principle. He has already acknowledge that some will argue all individual action can be interpreted as affecting others, and he has promised to address this argument in a later part of the treatise.

 

The tyranny of the majority is an interesting notion that Mill develops in this chapter. He first explains that the struggle between authority and liberty has historically been one between rulers and the subjects. Then he demonstrates that the formation of governments in which the “people” are the rulers – i.e. democracies or representative democracies – does not obviate the necessity of limiting the power of such governments to secure the liberty of all individuals. Though it seems, at first glance, to be self-evident that the “people” do not need to be protected from themselves, the mere form of a democracy does not protect against a tyranny of the majority that may arise when a majority within a society wishes to oppress a minority. Furthermore, because man is naturally intolerant and dogmatic, this possibility must be carefully guarded against. Indeed, this type of tyranny is far worse than the tyrannies of the past because the opinions of the majority penetrate into every detail of life, not just those regulated by law. Mill writes that the tyranny of the majority “enslaves the soul itself.”

 

While reading this provoking statement, I thought about the values of American society. There are prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and customs that directly affect the liberty of an individual. For example, a man who has tattoos on his face would find it very difficult to get a job, especially in corporate America. The man’s tattoos may offend the moral sense of others, but the tattoos do not physically harm anyone. It is acceptable to remonstrate with such a man, but to deny him job placement solely on the basis of his physical appearance is a type of coercion that violates Mill’s principle. In this situation, society essentially compels people to act in a certain way – i.e. not to get visible tattoos though the tattoos do not harm anyone – by use of pressure – i.e. a severe decrease in the quantity of available jobs. There are many other such instances: clothing, jewelry, transportation, furniture, etc. Nietzsche says that “conformity is herd instinct in the individual.” I think Mill would say that conformity is a product of coercion and a society that is not free.

 

CHAPTER II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

  • It is never a legitimate exercise of power to suppress the expression of opinion, even if a majority desires the opinion of a minority to be suppressed. Suppressing an opinion is an evil to the entire human race, both present and posterity. If the opinion is right, then we are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. If the opinion is wrong, then we are deprived of a clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth produced by its collision with error.
  • We can never be sure whether an opinion is true. Even if we are certain that an opinion is false, it is still wrong to suppress the opinion.
  • Those who desire to suppress an opinion are not infallible. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
  • Princes, who seldom have their convictions gainsaid, develop a sense of fatal certainty in their own infallibility. Other people place an unlimited amount of confidence in the infallibility of the “world,” which is nothing more than their contact with it – i.e. their church, sect, or class of society. Such a man’s confidence is not shaken by the fact that various ages, countries, and people have thought the exact reverse of him. He does not trouble himself with the thought that it is by mere accident that he is acquainted with a certain set of beliefs. The same accident that caused him to be a Christian in England caused another to be a Buddhist is Tibet.
  • Some might argue that judgment is given to men so that they may use it. To judge, and prohibit the expression of pernicious opinions is not a claim to be exempt from error, but rather a fulfillment of one’s conscientious duty. If we were never to act on our opinions because they might be wrong, then we would never act at all. Men must act to the best of their ability. There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance. We must assume our opinions to be true for the guidance of our conduct, and it is assuming no more when we forbid others to express pernicious opinions that would pervert society.
  • Mill responds that it is assuming much more. There is a difference between assuming an opinion is true because it has not been refuted despite every opportunity to contest it and assuming an opinion is true so that one can prohibit the opportunity to refute it.
  • The liberty of contradicting and disproving an opinion is necessary to justify one’s presumption of an opinion.
  • The value of man’s judgment lies in the fact that man’s errors are correctible. They are rectified only by discussion and experience, but especially by discussion; for discussion is necessary to demonstrate how experience is to be interpreted.
  • No man ever became wise except by collating his opinions with various others. This practice makes a man cognizant of all that can be said against his position; and therefore it is logical to conclude that he has a better judgment than people who have not gone through a similar process.
  • If we keep our mind always open to the truth and do not become complacent in our convictions, then we will have neglected nothing to enable the truth to reach us. If there is a better truth, then the mind will receive it when the mind is capable of doing so.
  • Some argue that certain beliefs are indispensable to the well-being of society, and therefore should not be controverted. Mill writes that these people only shift the presumption of infallibility from that of the judgment of the validity of a belief to the judgment of the utility of a belief. Furthermore, a belief is useful in so far as it is true.
  • The assumption of infallibility has caused the ruin of some of the best men and noblest doctrines.
  • Socrates, the source of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the utilitarianism of Aristotle, and therefore the source of all philosophy and the prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, was sentenced to death by his countrymen for impiety and immorality. Jesus, who left an impression of his moral grandeur that has commanded the reverence of posterity since his death, was condemned to die on the cross as a blasphemer.
  • But the people that condemned Socrates and Jesus were similar to the men of all ages, even the current one. The persecutors were respectable and pious men of their times. They likely were very sincere in their indignation at the actions of Socrates and Jesus, as many today are indignant about the actions of those condemners.
  • Marcus Aurelius, one of the wisest and most virtuous men to have ever lived, made the mistake of judgment in authorizing the persecution of Christians. He mistakenly believed that the Christian sect threatened the well-being of society because he believed that the traditional Roman divinities and religion was the glue that held the Empire together. Christianity aimed at destroying this bonding agent.
  • Some still argue against religious freedom, but aware of the impossibility of justifying punishment for restraining irreligious doctrines, they resort to the argument that persecution cannot harm the truth, that it is in fact necessary for truth to pass through persecution. Mill refutes this argument, writing that the authors of new truths are treated as the vilest of criminal under this argument whereas they should be treated as the benefactors of mankind; for they have revealed to the world something which deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant. The people who advocate religious intolerance on the ground that persecution cannot harm the truth disregard the well-being of those who seek to introduce new truths.
  • The Locrians required anyone who wished to propose a new law to appear before an assembly with a noose around their necks, which would be used to hang them if their proposal was not accepted and immediately enacted.
  • History is rife with instances in which the truth has been persecuted and suppressed for an excessive amount of time, perhaps even to this day. It would be a better state of affairs, and more conducive to progress toward the truth to allow free expression of opinions.
  • In 1857, Thomas Pooley was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for uttering and writing blasphemous words about Christianity on a gate. Two other men were rejected as jurymen and insulted by the judge because they expressed disbelief in god or an afterlife. Another man was denied justice against a thief because he had no theological belief.
  • The assumption that an oath is worthless if taken by a man who does not believe in a god or an afterlife is unfounded; for there are many men throughout history who are of the highest integrity and honor who are unbelievers. Besides the rule is self-defeating. It admits all the testimony of those atheists who are willing to lie about their beliefs, and prohibits all testimony from those atheists who are brave enough to disclose the truth about their beliefs, which are detested by the majority of society. Furthermore, the rule does an injustice to believers too; for it supposes that believers are only prevented from lying, if they are at all, by fear of hell. This does not speak to the virtue of believers.
  • Social stigma is sometimes more effective at suppressing the free expression of thought than legal persecutions. Mill contends that the expression of opinions under the ban of society is much less in England than in countries that punish such expressions with imprisonment. Men might as well be imprisoned as excluded from the means of earning their bread. Only men whose pecuniary circumstances make them independent of other men can freely express their opinions that are contrary to the public sentiment.
  • This mere social intolerance might be worse than legal persecution; for Socrates was put to death, but his philosophy rose like the sun and shed light far and wide. In the modern age, such expressions are left smoldering in circles of intellectuals that are too fearful to express their opinions lest they acquire the social stigma and be prevented from earning money to sustain themselves. Such a state of affairs in which a large portion of the intellectual population find it advisable to reserve the principles and grounds of their beliefs cannot produce the open and fearless characters that once adorned the thinking world.
  • How much we have lost because some men are fearful to follow an independent train of thought that might lead to heresy! The first duty of every thinker is to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may draw.
  • Where the discussion of the greatest questions concerning mankind is considered to be closed, there is not that high scale of mental activity that has made some periods of history so remarkable. Only during times where there is mental freedom are improvements to the human mind and institutions made.
  • The cultivation of one’s intellect consists in learning the grounds for one’s own opinion. This is only accomplished through dialectics.
  • He who knows the grounds for his opinions and can defend them against any opposition must still be able to refute the opposite opinions.
  • It is not enough to hear counterarguments given by his teacher and accompanied by a refutation. One ought to hear the arguments from a person who actually believes them.
  • When an opinion is not debated, it loses it vitality and ability to influence the person who possesses it. The modern Christian professes to adhere to the precepts of Christianity, but behaves in a different manner because the precepts have lost their meaning in the absence of opposition. The early Christians behaved in a much different way than modern Christians because they were under the constant necessity of defending their position.
  • When people do not understand their own principles – i.e. provide reasons for what they believe and refute opposing arguments – serious disasters can occur.
  • Even if humanity reaches a point of absolute truth concerning a topic, it is necessary to provide dissenting opinions in order to maintain the lively impression of the truth in the minds of those who possess it.
  • Often the truth that people hold is only a partial truth. The prevailing opinion and the dissenting opinion might both contain half-truths that need to be reconciled.
  • Mill cites Rousseau’s shocking argument against the Enlightenment feeling of human progress being a good thing. Though Rousseau was not entirely correct in his assessment of modern civilization, neither was the prevailing opinion of the Enlightenment thinkers.
  • Christ did not intend His teachings to be a comprehensive moral system. Christian morality is clearly lacking is more concerned with abstinence from evil than actively pursuing good; there are more “thou shalt nots” rather than “thou shalts.” Finally, “It can do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.”
  • To recapitulate the four main arguments:

o   Any opinion might be true. To silence an opinion is to suppose infallibility.

o   Many opinions contain half-truths that can only be supplied through dialectic opposition with other opinions containing partial truths.

o   Unless an opinion is controverted, it will be held as a prejudice because the people will not comprehend its rational grounds.

o   Unless an opinion is contested, the meaning of the opinion will be lost or deprived of its influence on the conduct of the individual. It will become merely a profession of belief rather than a heartfelt conviction.

 

“He devolves upon his own world the responsibility of being in the right against the dissentient worlds of other people; and it never troubles him that mere accident has decided which of these numerous worlds is the object of his reliance, and that the same causes which make him a Churchman in London, would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Pekin.”

 

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.”

 

“The man who left on the memory of those who witnessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death, as what? As a blasphemer.”

 

“The high-priest who rent his garments when the words were pronounced, which, according to all the ideas of his country, constituted the blackest guilt, was in all probability quite as sincere in his horror and indignation, as the generality of respectable and pious men now are in the religious and moral sentiments they profess; and most of those who now shudder at his conduct, if they had lived in his time, and been born Jews, would have acted precisely as he did.”

 

“It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake. Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.”

 

“Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.”

 

“Where there is a tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed; where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable. Never when controversy avoided the subjects which are large and important enough to kindle enthusiasm, was the mind of a people stirred up from its foundations, and the impulse given which raised even persons of the most ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of thinking beings.”

 

“To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being ever realised in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is accounted such by all churches and sects—the maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament. These are considered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all professing Christians. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by reference to those laws. The standard to which he does refer it, is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession. He has thus, on the one hand, a collection of ethical maxims, which he believes to have been vouchsafed to him by infallible wisdom as rules for his government; and on the other, a set of every-day judgments and practices, which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not so great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to some, and are, on the whole, a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests and suggestions of worldly life. To the first of these standards he gives his homage; to the other his real allegiance. All Christians believe that the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbour as themselves; that if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. They are not insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regulates conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the point to which it is usual to act upon them. The doctrines in their integrity are serviceable to pelt adversaries with; and it is understood that they are to be put forward (when possible) as the reasons for whatever people do that they think laudable. But any one who reminded them that the maxims require an infinity of things which they never even think of doing, would gain nothing but to be classed among those very unpopular characters who affect to be better than other people. The doctrines have no hold on ordinary believers—are not a power in their minds. They have a habitual respect for the sound of them, but no feeling which spreads from the words to the things signified, and forces the mind to take them in, and make them conform to the formula. Whenever conduct is concerned, they look round for Mr. A and B to direct them how far to go in obeying Christ.

 

Now we may be well assured that the case was not thus, but far otherwise, with the early Christians. Had it been thus, Christianity never would have expanded from an obscure sect of the despised Hebrews into the religion of the Roman empire. When their enemies said, “See how these Christians love one another” (a remark not likely to be made by anybody now), they assuredly had a much livelier feeling of the meaning of their creed than they have ever had since. And to this cause, probably, it is chiefly owing that Christianity now makes so little progress in extending its domain, and after eighteen centuries, is still nearly confined to Europeans and the descendants of Europeans. Even with the strictly religious, who are much in earnest about their doctrines, and attach a greater amount of meaning to many of them than people in general, it commonly happens that the part which is thus comparatively active in their minds is that which was made by Calvin, or Knox, or some such person much nearer in character to themselves. The sayings of Christ coexist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland. There are many reasons, doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognised sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.

 

Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) “thou shalt not” predominates unduly over “thou shalt.” In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism, which has been gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man’s feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow-creatures, except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established; who indeed are not to be actively obeyed when they command what religion forbids, but who are not to be resisted, far less rebelled against, for any amount of wrong to ourselves. And while, in the morality of the best Pagan nations, duty to the State holds even a disproportionate place, infringing on the just liberty of the individual; in purely Christian ethics, that grand department of duty is scarcely  noticed or acknowledged. It is in the Koran, not the New Testament, that we read the maxim—”A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and against the State.” What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality, is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian; as, even in the morality of private life, whatever exists of magnanimity, high-mindedness, personal dignity, even the sense of honour, is derived from the purely human, not the religious part of our education, and never could have grown out of a standard of ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognised, is that of obedience. It can do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.”

 

Mill argues that it is always wrong, and violates the principles of liberty, to suppress opinions. If the opinion is true, then we lose the ability to correct our previous error. If the opinion is false, then we are deprived of the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth produced by its collision with error. These are two very persuasive arguments. Furthermore, as Mill discusses, the exposure to various opinions is the expedient whereby men become wise. No man is infallible, and it is only through the process of collating his opinions with others, and rectifying his errors as they become apparent to him, that man improves his judgment. I found it amusing when Mill notes the disposition of men to believe that the opinions he shares with others are infallible despite the many contrary opinions held by other ages, countries, and people. Man believes that he and his sect alone have the privilege of truth without recognizing that it is only by accident that he holds his beliefs. The same accident that made him a Christian in England made another man a Buddhist in Tibet. In other words, the majority of men appeal to their own inclinations and fears, often determined by their society, rather than any objective principle.

 

Some argue that certain beliefs are indispensable to the well-being of society, and therefore should not be controverted. Mill writes that these people only shift the presumption of infallibility from that of the judgment of the validity of a belief to the judgment of the utility of a belief. Furthermore, a belief is useful in so far as it is true. I do not agree with this last point. I believe that an opinion can be useful to a person’s well-being despite the opinion being false. For example, baseball players are very superstitious. Some believe that the order in which they don their socks and shoes has a significant influence over their performance. There is obviously no correlation between the two events, but the mere opinion that he will play well if he places his socks and shoes on his left leg before his right is sufficient to make him play well because he is confident – confidence being a tremendous source of good play, though it be entirely impossible to arouse consciously, i.e. without some sort of superstitious ritual.

 

Mill gives a scathing criticism of those who believe that Christian morality is a comprehensive moral system. He writes that Christian morality is more concerned with abstaining from evils rather than actively doing good. Regardless of this evaluation, I think that his argument that the way that most modern Christians behave is utterly inconsistent with the moral teachings of Christ is indisputable. Mill argues that this is because the lack of discussion and consideration of other theological arguments has led to these precepts becoming dull and mere professions of faith rather than lively and stimulating ideas. I believe that the ideas have lost their force because the allure of modern conveniences is too strong for a weak-willed person to overcome. To behave according to Christian precepts is too difficult for the modern man. The temptation of money and luxury is too great.

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