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PHIL 103 C, Wednesday, 10-25-17

Log 6 (3 tyrannies), Chapter 2, Liberty of thought + discussion

audio/mpeg PHIL_103_C_Wed_10_25_17.mp3 — 26806 KB


Today we are supposed talk about that chapter 2, but I want to say a few things about your logs.  There was a lot of ignoring of the topic which is a bad idea because it not only means you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do it means you not taking instruction.   The opening paragraph of the first is a story about how the human race has been developing self-rule.  At the start life is miserable.  This is a story in which liberty is bad.  People are free at least to try to do things.  We should not exaggerate the freedom they have other people are always doing things that prevent you from doing what you want to do.  So in fact they have very little freedom because nobody restrains himself and everybody is restrained by everybody else.   Clearly there is more liberty for the stronger, but even they are vulnerable.   The one thing you should not count on in such a situation is longevity. So it’s a story about how bad liberty is, but it’s also a story, if you pay attention, how great liberty is.  The nature of this whole book is an attempt to draw a line where liberty is good and where it is bad.  That’s what we’re working on right here.  It shows how good liberty is because in this bad situation there are people  not known to us, since this is all prehistoric,  just as we don’t know who invented the wheel, which was undoubtedly invented by many different people in many different places, and we don’t know who invented fire.   Sometimes we look at prehistoric human accomplishment and people think that they are so extraordinary they must have been done by aliens, gods or something.  


The government is the creation of something powerful, a group of people who are given greater power, given weapons or whatever, to enforce the agreement by  everybody else to submit to their judgment, to their rule.  The only way that people can be restrained at this stage in their development is by the threat or actual force of others.  It is a little bit like somebody trying to be on a diet, to avoid eating certain foods,   but incapable of doing that except if every time you reach for that food somebody slaps your face and grabs it, takes it away from you, then you can stick to your diet.  No matter how well-developed we are, it seems unlikely that it will ever be the case that human beings can be entirely without any need of other people to push back on a selfish wish, but what I said before was that Mill is talking about the development of the human race. Early in our history, before government, the only restraint was an opposed physical force.  The invention of government is the use of the same kind of external force, but directed specifically to whatever individuals do that is harmful to other individuals.  It is the use of force, but what it enforces is peace.


It’s very clever for people to come up with this idea of restraining all of us by having these overseers, these police, however, it’s also a problem because the overseers are people like those they restrain and they do not have self-restraint.   Whatever their purposes are, they will not stick to them any more than the person I was talking about who was on a diet.  The invention of government is a very good idea, but the rulers are people, not angels sent to us by God.   There is stuff in the Hebrew Bible about rule by prophets and at a certain point they are replaced by Kings.  In any case, we’re not able to get angels or some direct rule by superior beings.  The only way we can have ruling right sometimes is to get better people.  We have to ask ourselves, what is Mill saying is the purpose of government?   Why did they invent government?  What did they want it to do for them?  


Every community has a tradition, a custom, limiting the interference of authority with the individual.  Some communities are much more involved than others, but they all have a custom.  However, Mill wants to determine what reason sets as the limit of authority, so this is his attempt to do that.  If he is to protect people from each other then that tells you what reason tells you is the line of legitimate authority over individuals, to protect them from each other.   Then anything that it does beyond that is not right, not reasonable.  The Problem is that these people are like the people who need a government to oppose them.  These people will impose rules on others for other reasons.   Some of them might be because they think it’s good for them, i.e.,  not protecting them from somebody else but to protect them from themselves.  Mill is very clear that that’s not the job of government, which is to protect people from other people.   Or they might impose rules on people for their own benefit, what we call corruption.  Or people in government who don’t like somebody might want to do harm to that person, use the power of government to harm persons or they might want to become wealthy.  People in government very often become wealthy.   All of these are perfectly understandable from the point of view of human nature,  but they are not reasonable according to the reason for the government.   But there’re a price that people had to pay for the invention of government.   We’re no longer subject continually to harm from everybody around us, but we are subject to harm from the government. 


That’s the story Mill tells and so then he says for a period of over 1000 years,  talking mostly about European countries,  they oppose government in order to limit its powers so it won’t do some of this stuff that it has not been invented do.  They had some success; the power of government was limited in various ways, but the problem basically remained until somebody came up with another idea so what we have here is how in life. when you make great advances.   You accomplish wonderful things, you’re almost always faced with new problem.  People get very happy about their accomplishments, about maybe getting rich or getting married and then they discover that wealth has problems, not the least of which is that everybody wants to share it and marriage means living close with people.  Everything is a problem because we have people imposing their will.  Keep in mind that doesn’t mean that imposing your will on other peopleis always wrong.  When you follow the rule of protection, it is right if you interfere with somebody’s liberty; you impose your will on that person because that person was about harm somebody else.  But the imposition of will is the general reason for improper imposition will, when it goes beyond protecting people from another person’s liberty.  if however you have self-government that means that they will and are ruled; the person ruling is also ruled. Mill says if it were just a matter of single individuals ruling themselves, that would work, but whole communities and whole nations the idea there is if people rule themselves, the rules by the people not by some part of the people, like the king or something like that. 



The problem is they have to be in agreement in order to function like one individual ruling himself, but what we find is characteristic of people is disagreement.   There have been views of this, and there still are, in which people think they know what the truth is and think that everybody should agree to that truth and follow it, so that there is unanimity.  We know that sometimes religious groups feel that any dissent, any disagreement with their view is wrong and should be opposed violently if necessary.   But it isn’t always religion.  Jean Jacques Rousseau  has the idea of a general will: as long as every individual follows the general will, there will be no disagreement.   We know, however, that the French Revolution was a time of great crimes; many, many thousands had their heads cut off,  so the problem for Mill is that if people don’t agree, and it’s typical that human beings do not agree even when we agree, when we start talking about living according to our agreement it turns out that we don’t entirely agree and the disagreements of those we’re basically in agreement are usually more ferocious even than they are with those who are completely in disagreement.  


So we have possibility a lot of conflict and a continuation of the imposition of will on others.  Now instead of it being by government, the rulers over the ruled,  the majority rule.


When the majority goes beyond the limit to control  unruly people, now the situation is a little different.  People used to being ruled by their own impulses now people will rule we will roll ourselves you’re so the majority however thinks of himself everybody well what I want for wow those are the bad people and they’ll listen to it all live sensibly ever correctly so there is a tendency toward their own ideas as the right one and therefore no Wong no reluctance to prevent others from so it goes beyond the protection  principle doesn’t just stop people from doing things that others it imposes me of how to live on people.   Mill says this is a bigger problem in some ways than tyranny in the past because the majority are so pervasive.  


Mill’s essay is written in order to convince the majority that liberty is more valuable than they think it is; that liberty is more valuable even than their views of how people should live.  So that’s what he’s got to try to show and that’s what he starts to show in chapter 2.  What’s the structure of the chapter?  This the same as if you wanted to understand an animal.  As a as an anatomist you would look for the articulation of the bones to see what kind of animal is. There are joints.  They are the three benefits of thought and discussion: truth, knowledge, and adding to a partial truth.