7: Proper Authority over Me


  • Read, analyze, and critique philosophical texts
  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as utilitarianism, spontaneity, and dissention
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

I. Chapter 3

City police patrol cars
Baltimore, Maryland

Key Terms


  • A. Should the Individual be permitted to act on his beliefs?
    • Actions are not the same as opinions
    • If either harms another individual, it should be stopped
    • But Individuality is a good
  • B. Individuality is valuable to the Individual
    • To understand the self, we must be able to explore the self
    • Spontaneity is a good
    • Children should be taught society’s norms, but adults should challenge
    • Nothing is infallible, the Argument from Tradition is unjust
  • C. Individuality is valuable to Society
    • Early in a society’s development, individuality should be limited
    • The stronger danger in a modern society is too little challenge to norms
    • We learn from the nonconformist
    • There is no one rationale that guides our lives, we construct our own reasons for our beliefs


One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam engine has a character

II. Chapter 4

  • A. Mill’s Conclusion
    • Adults should have perfect freedom over their lives
    • Since the State provides protection, the Individual should not harm others
    • The State should not interfere if an Individual’s actions affects himself or consenting adults
  • B. Boundaries of Mill’s Conclusion
    • Dissension vs. Chastisement
    • Potential criticism: But since everyone in society relies on others to some degree or another, doesn’t every action that harms the individual, also harm society?
    • Mill’s response
      • If an action opposes moral obligation to others, the State (or another Individual) can intervene.
      • Something can only be punished if it harms others
      • If you would resent the application of someone else’s moral restriction, don’t apply moral restrictions to others

III. Chapter 5

  • A. Summary
    • If what an Individual is doing only concerns himself or other consenting adults, society should not forcibly stop his behavior
    • Individuals that do cause harm to others should be subject to society’s laws and punishments
    • The good of the society outweighs the good of the Individual
      • One Individual is chosen for a job over 10 other candidates
      • Free market economy
  • B. Applications of Mill’s Theory
    • Guarding against potential threats with limitations
    • Convincing others to share your beliefs permitted
    • Abdicating our liberty forbidden
    • Endangering the welfare or education of a child forbidden
    • Should the State intervene to help people or should they help themselves?
      • The person most qualified to act is the person him or herself
      • Solving problems builds character
      • More power to the State is contrary to increased liberty
      • Less government the better for society and liberty
      • Information should be centralized and publicly debated
      • Power decentralized so the majority does not have undue influence

IV. Criticisms of Mill

  • A. Notion of consenting adults is contentious
  • B. Dangers of indoctrination by a dominant group
  • C. Similarities between this theory and Ethical Egoism

V. Concluding Thoughts

  • Example of how ethical questions are analyzed by a philosopher
  • Considers a question, presents an argument to resolve the question, anticipates criticism, provides rebuttal
  • Opinions are insufficient