Autonomy, Slavery, and Mill's Critique of Paternalism

Fuchs, Alan E.
September 2001
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Sep2001, Vol. 4 Issue 3, p231
Academic Journal
Critics have charged that John Stuart Mill's discussion as of paternalism in On Liberty is internally inconsistent, noting, for example, the numerous instances in which Mill explicitly endorses examples of paternalistic coercion. Similarly, commentators have noted an apparent contradiction between Mill's political liberalism - according to which the state should be neutral among competing conceptions of the good - and Mill's condemnation of non-autonomous ways of life, such as that of a servile wife. More generally, critics have argued that while Mill professes an allegiance to utilitarianism, he actually abandons it in favor of a view that values personal autonomy as the greatest intrinsic good. This paper presents an interpretation of Mill that provides a viable and consistent treatment of paternalism, thereby refuting each of the aforementioned critiques. Mill's views, it argues, are consistently utilitarian. Moreover, the interpretation accounts for all of Mill's departures from his otherwise blanket prohibition of paternalistic legislation. In particular, it explains his most notorious example, the condemnation of voluntary contracts for slavery. The interpretation emphasizes Mill's conceptual linkage between autonomy and utility, noting his implicit use of at least three different senses of the notion of autonomy.


Related Articles

  • Mill's Circle(s) of Liberty. Hansson, Sven Ove // Social Theory & Practice;Oct2015, Vol. 41 Issue 4, p734 

    J.S. Mill's advocacy of liberty was based only in part on his harm principle. He also endorsed two other principles that considerably extend the scope of liberty: first, a principle of individual liberty that is based on the value of positive freedom and of developing individuality, and second,...

  • Selling Oneself into Slavery: Mill and Paternalism. La Selva, Samuel V. // Political Studies;Jun87, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p211 

    ‘Voluntarily acceding to slavery’, Joel Feinberg has written, ‘is too much for Mill to stomach’, and so Mill espouses strong paternalism and contradicts his famous principle of individual sovereignty. Mill's critics have found incoherence where none exists, largely...

  • MILL'S AMBIVALENCE ABOUT RIGHTS. Brink, David O. // Boston University Law Review;Aug2010, Vol. 90 Issue 4, p1669 

    A conference paper on the theory of rights by philosopher John Stuart Mill and his idea of utilitarianism is presented. It discusses the conceptions of Mill on the nature of rights including the function of rights as secondary principle, rights in the protection of interests and liberties that...

  • 'A Single Truth': Mill on Harm, Paternalism and Good Samaritanism. Laselva, Samuel V. // Political Studies;Sep88, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p486 

    On Liberty provides the classic defense of what has come to be known as Mill's harm principle and yet that principle is commonly believed to be at odds with Mill's equally famous discussions of paternalism and good Samaritans. Moreover, the alleged inconsistencies are often said to expose the...

  • Moral Exceptionalism. Kavanaugh, John F. // America;2/23/2009, Vol. 200 Issue 6, p10 

    The article presents the author's views on the principles of Immanuel Kant reflecting on its impact in contemporary culture. It depicts its discussion on Kant's perspectives on the watered-down version of John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism, remarking that personal liberty and happiness are the...

  • On Liberty for the Old. Browne, Alister; Blake, Mary; Donnelly, Martha; Herbert, Deidre // Canadian Journal on Aging;Summer2002, Vol. 21 Issue 2, p283 

    Elderly adults often pose, or are perceived to pose, a risk to themselves or others. Others often also have the will, and sometimes the ability, to intervene in their lives: to take them from their homes, force medical treatment on them, and prevent them from spending their money as they see...

  • Reformulating Mill's Harm Principle. SAUNDERS, BEN // Mind;Oct2016, Vol. 125 Issue 500, p1005 

    Mill's harm principle is commonly supposed to rest on a distinction between selfregarding conduct, which is not liable to interference, and other-regarding conduct, which is. As critics have noted, this distinction is difficult to draw. Furthermore, some of Mill's own applications of the...

  • Was Mill a Utilitarian? Coope, Christopher Miles // Utilitas;Mar1998, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p33 

    Discusses the question on whether John Stuart Mill was a utilitarian. Mill's receptiveness of all types of ideas; Ability to think of himself as a utilitarian only by expanding the notion to cover any doctrine; Criticism on Mill's account of moral obligation; Emphasis on the place of...

  • John Stuart Mill: utilitarismo e liberalismo. Simões, Mauro Cardoso // Veritas;jan-abr2013, Vol. 58 Issue 1, p174 

    My aim in this paper is to investigate the compatibility of this utilitarian and liberal thesis of John Stuart Mill. I'll present initially the main critics of moral and political philosophy of Mill, for whom the disciple of Bentham would have abandoned the utilitarianism or still not...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics