Business Ethics

John Stuart Mill “On Liberty”

"On Liberty" written by John Stuart Mill is one of the most valuable works of the liberal tradition. The major issues of the article are familiar to all the scientists who work in the political or social sphere. Mill opposes the self-restraint of the individual due to restrictions on his/her freedom  by society, and against restrictions on freedom of the individual and society by the state. In one way or another, the three central chapters of the Mill’s article "On Liberty" are dedicated to the general relationship of the individual, society and state in the framework of freedom. 

The major idea is that the author opposes restrictions on the freedom of the individual by society, and is against restrictions on freedom of the individual and society by the state. Mill detects the first signs of becoming mass society, noting the new threats that do not fit into the framework of previous confrontations and trying to find the answers. For example, attempts to combine a variety of forms of training, which is necessary to maintain, with the need for universal education. 


In his work, John Stuart Mill quite specifically defines the scope of individual freedom. According to him, the sphere of individual freedom is a sphere of human life; this has a direct relation only to the individual himself/herself. This author distinguishes freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, absolute freedom of thought, feelings and opinions relating to every sphere of human activity. In the realm of individual freedom, Mill also considers freedom of choice and self-selected target of persecution, freedom to arrange one’s life at his/her own discretion, and freedom to act in conjunction with other individuals connected with them to achieve this goal, which is not harmful to others.

Of course, Mill knew perfectly well that the joint life could not exist without proper restrictions of freedom. It was the author, who said that the freedom of one ends where the freedom of another begins. The boundary of this, of course, is mobile and conventional. Moreover, incidentally, it is supported in the free discussion. In his treatise, Mill provides some details on how this boundary should be defined. Nevertheless, wherever it is held on the occasion, the author insists that freedom is the norm, and any limitations of it are a rationally justified exception or pathology. The individual has the right for any vices and follies if he/she does not prejudice anyone but himself/herself. If the conduct of an individual is a moral outrage and disgusts aesthetic neighbors, then shrugs Mill, “let him/her leave personal feelings for him/her.” The freedom of the public interest and the public good is more important than one’s feelings. It is the general idea that is essential for the modern business ethics.

The author argues that the difference in opinions of individuals is not evil and good and the unity of opinion (with the proviso that it is not the result of free and full comparison of the opposite opinion) is not desirable. In connection with this statement, Mill shows the usefulness for the humanity of the existence of different points of view. There are different ways of life, which insist on giving full play to the many individual characters. Mill says that every person who enjoys the protection of society is required for this award. The fact that the individual lives in the society makes the existence of a duty to fulfill certain rules of behavior towards other people inevitable. Namely, every person in the business society should not violate the interests of others, whom the law recognizes them as the right. There is the need to fulfill the share of the work and the work is necessary to protect society or its members from any harm. It is important that the public has every right to force any individual to perform these duties.

Mill also suggests the possibility of pressure on the individual by public opinion. Even without breaking any established rights, human actions could harm the interests of other people. In this case, although such an individual cannot be a legitimately penalized, he/she can be justly punished by the public opinion. If a person's actions harm the interests of other people, society, according to the author, has every right to intervene. In all other cases (for example, if individuals themselves are willing to harm their interests), the person should be given full legal freedom to act on his/her own and at his/her own risk.

According to the author’s immutable rule, there must be the freedom of opinion and the freedom of expression. Accordingly, no one has the right oppress an individual's opinion and try to force someone else. Even if the conventional prevailing view is completely true but it does not allow one to challenge it, then this opinion will lose its rationality soon and become a superstition in the minds of a large part of the people. In addition, Mill notices that by making itself unavailable for criticism, dominant opinion is in serious danger of losing its meaning, weakening its influence on people, and even completely losing its effect. Otherwise, this opinion will become a mere formality, which will take place without any benefit and would prevent the emergence of new and sincere belief. Therefore, whatever the definition of freedom is, it will always be valued, which implies the impossibility of the existence of a consensus on the concept of freedom, because each researcher will resort to his/her own moral judgments.

Isaiah Berlin “Two concepts of Liberty”

One of the most respected modern interpretations of freedom was developed by Isaiah Berlin. In his work "Two Concepts of Liberty," the author supports the concept of negative freedom - freedom as the absence of external intervention in the sphere of the individual - against positive freedom. The latter refers not to freedom as such, but effective power or superiority of a person or the environment. The concept of negative liberty seems similar to the idea of Berlin that freedom is the absence of a physical and violent influence or interference with the individual and property. 

The understanding of the concepts of freedom and pluralism of values Berlin recognized as classics of Western liberalism, situation of which is mixed today. On the one hand, for three hundred years liberalism has passed the test of time and proved viable. On the other hand, there is an existing recognition that liberalism has exhausted itself and put itself in decline. The need to develop a new version of liberalism inevitably raised the question of its philosophical and theoretical basis. This context emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the idea of Berlin as an essential element of the liberal theory. His study is necessary to recreate a complete panorama of the genesis of the liberal tradition.

Referring to the reflections of Kant, Russo, Hegel and positive school of freedom, Berlin notes that the development of the ideas of this kind led to the identification of freedom with all sorts of political constraints. It was especially evident in XIX-XX centuries when they were widely used as a base for national self-determination, democratic government and the communist interpretation of humanity. At the highest point of the expression of these ideas, the freedom of the individual was interpreted as a form of collective control necessary for self-determination of nations, social groups and possibly the whole of humanity. Thus, Berlin establishes connection between the positive interpretation of freedom and totalitarianism. Negative freedom, accordingly, serves to provide inviolability of borders of human freedom and groups of people for which it cannot be transgressed. 

The need to prioritize causes the rise of the problematic issues. If the concept of a minimum inviolable freedom of the individual includes political rights (the meaning of the right to possess the property and its security) and freedom of speech, the concept of human rights is in negative freedom. These are human rights in their classical sense. Initially, the war for the economic dimension was Marxists’, but today the most diverse groups perform on this field - from anti-globalization activists, environmentalists, and the new left to the nationalist conservative religious organizations and advocates of cultural conservatism.

Berlin contrasted the two types of freedom: positive and negative ones. It is a positive freedom he treated with caution. He feared it because hiding behind the screen of social concern, meekness, civil liability, and common sense, which often were not alien to it, that freedom, at the same time, allows finding justification for tyranny and despotism as has already happened and is happening now. This is ancient classical understanding of freedom. Everyone is free to choose the kind of life that he/she enjoys. Only due to immaturity, ignorance, mental disability or any other reason, a person cannot choose life for himself/herself. 

If teachers and parents replace the state, church or party, the society would get the theory underlying most modern systems of power. It is the kind of power that knows what life is good for you better than you. Man's inability to fly cannot be called lack of freedom; it is just a fact that should be accepted. A person must obey the laws of nature, whether he/she likes it or not. Naturally, one can jump into the abyss in the hope to fly like a bird, but the experiment is doomed to failure. On the other hand, people are living in the community, and therefore must obey the laws of society, which states that it is necessary to consider the interests of others.

The classic interpretation of modern liberalism has been expressed, for example, in the Declaration of Human Rights in the United States and the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill (a negative freedom). It just recognizes the independence of the private sphere of life (as opposed to positive freedom). If one throws a comprehensive look at societies that rely on one or another notion of freedom, one notes that some of them tend to diversity, variety, individualism, separateness, while others tend to conformity, uniformity, collectivism, and averaging. Moreover, Mill, longingly looking at the present and even more longingly gazing into the future, has introduced one of the darkest issues in terms of philosophy - the collective mediocrity. 

Critics say the positivists build further analysis of the possibility, not freedom. Berlin opposed the substitution of concepts, believing that freedom is a freedom, not equality, justice or human happiness. Accordingly, whatever the definition of freedom is, it will always be valued, which implies the impossibility of the existence of a consensus on the concept of freedom, because each researcher will resort to his or her own moral judgments. Using the comparative analysis of the negative and positive conceptions of freedom, this work detects differences and points of contact. The author reveals the different understanding of freedom here. The patent summary of existing concepts of civil liberties from Hobbes to the Mill is the major idea of the work. Focused on these ideas, Berlin warns the reader of the danger to the nature of the human being and freedom having a desire for absolute freedom of individual action. 

Academic Writing Help

Jul 15, 2019 in Law Essay Samples