Sunday, July 6, 2014

Miles Kimball — John Stuart Mill's Brief for Individuality

I have been publishing a post based on John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty every other Sunday since January 27, 2013. Each of these posts is a bit like a homily based on a passage of scripture; but the “scripture” in this case is On Liberty, and occasionally I disagree with John. (You can seem them all onmy Religion, Science and Humanities sub-blog.) 
Chapter I of On Liberty is an introduction. When I completed my series of posts on Chapter II of On Liberty, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion,” I organized that series of posts in “John Stuart Mill’s Brief for Freedom of Speech.” That post is 43d in my latest list of most popular posts,and exhibits a continuing steady popularity long after its first appearance. I have now completed my series of posts of Chapter III of On Liberty, “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being.” So I wanted to do a post gathering together links to all my posts based on that chapter. 
Time has passed quickly enough that I am surprised by the total number of posts. I think the titles of these posts give a pretty good idea of the progression of John’s argument….
Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal
John Stuart Mill's Brief for Individuality
Miles Kimball | Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan

The tension between liberal democracy and social democracy revolves around the integration of personal freedom and social solidarity in community. In the socialization process we all go through in civilization, children learn that these poles must be integrated for equality of persons to be realized. One person cannot be truly free in a democracy without according other persons the same rights and respect. 

Equality does not imply uniformity or require conformity, other than recognizing equality of persons as persons along with difference as unique individuals. From the negative standpoint, both individuality and community need to be protected, and from the positive standpoint, both individuals and the community need to be able to unfold inherent potential through individual choice and common agreement. 

This involves setting boundaries and individuals set them differently within community, resulting in tension, and different communities set different boundaries, resulting in tension among communities. It's a balancing act that is never final and complete.

Equality of persons is based on the universality of human nature. We are all human beings playing on team human regardless of whether we realize it. From the spiritual perspective, the more one realizes universality, not only of persons but also of being, the more spiritually mature one is and the more naturally the virtues that constitute character are lived spontaneously. In this way, individuality and community are naturally complementary and the tension between them is overcome.

Just as the level of awareness of universality is the measure of spiritual maturity and integration, so to the level of awareness predominating in a community reflects the level of collective consciousness of that group. In the view of virtue ethics, e.g, as set forth in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, the fundamental purpose of education is to develop awareness of unity underlying diversity in order to make virtue natural through character building. This fits individuals as citizens for productive and contributory life in a polis, that is a community under the rule of law. 

Freedom is self-determination. In a democracy, the law is determined by the people themselves, who are free to change it as they see fit over time.


Ryan Harris said...

Social laws are as flawed and plastic as an individual's common-sense.

We can judge outcomes (conservative approach) or or motives (liberal approach) of an individual or institution to decide whether a behavior or policy is on the balance helpful. In the real world both probably matter.

Matt Franko said...

From Mill's wiki:

"Mill believed that "the struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history."

This is an astute observation...

and "For him, liberty in antiquity was a "contest... between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government."

Well it may have been that way in antiquity but it appears to me that this view has returned (and how!) and accurately describes the deal with present day libertarians... they are anti-government.... its a pretty sophomoric view imo and apparently a return to ancient/barbarian behaviors ie drugs/gold/guns, etc...