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 Liberty Rights.

 

            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?

 

 

WEEK #4:  Liberty and Well-Being 

 

            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?

 

            10.  Economic 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 China (pp. 80-82).  Things are very different today.  When we compare the violence, the breakdown of families, and the drug abuse so prevalent in American society with the orderly, civil societies of the East--especially the "miracle" economies of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and now parts of China, it is not so clear that Mill was right.  Many Asian societies seem to be moving toward an economic system based on free markets, with little or no freedom of expression, at least of political or religious expression.  (In Singapore, even the Wall Street Journal was banned for a time.)  In addition, these countries are characterized by powerful social forces that reinforce fitting in with the group and oppose individuality.  Was correct that freedom of thought and expression and the tolerance of individuality really are the best way to maximize total happiness?

 

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?