PHIL. 410A: DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR WEEKS #3 AND #4
ON MILL, HAYEK, AND SEN
[NOTE: In Chapter 1 of On Liberty, on page 18, line 2 (Prometheus edition), "neither" should be "either". The sentence should read: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”]
WEEK #3: Utilitarian
1. In Chapter 1, Mill announces one simple principle and then gives three different versions of it. What are they? One version of the principle is called the Harm Principle (it is the only one with the word "harm" in it). What does Mill mean by "harm"? [Do not overlook his discussion of "positive duties" on p. 17.
2. The third version of Mill's principle defines a protected sphere of negative liberty. How is the protected sphere defined? How does Mill’s protected sphere differ from Thomson’s natural claims?
3. Mill's argument for liberty of thought and discussion is one of the most famous in political philosophy. Actually, there is more than one argument. Summarize Mill's arguments. What empirical premises do his arguments depend on? Are the empirical premises true?
4. Does Mill believe that the right to freedom of thought and discussion is absolute? Does he believe that limits on freedom of expression are ever justified?
5. What does Mill mean by "individuality"? He gives two arguments for protecting rights to individuality. What are they?
1. Mill claims that each individual has a private sphere of actions which only concern herself/himself? How successful is he in defending this claim? [Consider, especially, the argument that begins at the bottom of page 90.] What empirical premises does it depend on?
2. In a Millian society, would any drugs be illegal? Which types of government regulation of drugs would be permissible, and which would not? [Be sure to provide citations to support your views.]
3. Sabbatarian legislation. Mill opposes laws that restrict recreational activities on Sunday but does not oppose laws that restrict working on Sunday. What is the difference?
4. Does Mill think that people should be free to become slaves? Why or why not?
5. Would Mill have supported a right of those with terminal illnesses to commit suicide or to obtain assistance in ending their lives? Explain.
6. Hayek claims that the only way to prevent coercion is by the threat of coercion (p. 21). Do you agree that government should minimize coercion?
7. Fallibilism. Both Mill and Hayek are fallibilists—they believe that everyone should acknowledge that their beliefs may be mistaken. Consider how Mill and Hayek might reply to the following argument: If the you acknowledge that your own views may be mistaken, why should anyone accept what you say about the advantages of liberty? [Support your reply with citations to the Mill and Hayek texts.]
8 Hayek believes that progress = the growth of civilization = the growth of knowledge. Provide cites for this equivalence. What does he mean by knowledge?
9. According to Hayek, what are the important elements of one's protected sphere? How does Hayek's account differ from Thomson's? How does Hayek's account differ from Mill's?
Progress Without Political Freedom. Is
Mill's advocacy of freedom of thought and discussion and of tolerating
individuality based on a mistake? When
Mill looked at 19th century British society, he was overwhelmed by the stifling
effects of conformity. When he wanted to
give his audience an example of the extreme of "the despotism of
custom", he pointed to "the East", particularly
11. One way of stating the argument for economic progress over political freedom is to claim that "you can't eat a right to freedom of expression or other political rights". Amartya Sen has done extensive research on famines. Why does he believe that freedom of expression and other political rights can help to eliminate famines?