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Furthermore, Mill’s principle divides matters crucially into two areas: the personal and the public. Even if all the questions relating to the private are answered satisfactorily, the questions relating to public actions are somewhat greater: when a man acts, it will typically affect others, however mildly. If the impact of these effects is to infringe upon the rights or happiness of others, then the state and the people are justified, under Mill’s logic, in interfering with their actions. So what about the guard on the bridge – compelled to allow the suicidal to continue running, and then forced to witness their deaths? Could it be said that in order to prevent this mental anguish, the runner should be prevented from acting? Mill gives great consideration to various potential actions later in On Liberty, showing how his simple principle can be interpreted and used. The guard can of course turn away, and in Mill’s time such considerations would not have been given much thought, so long before modern ideas about mental health. It is a question that would have been interesting to see Mill’s actual argument, but we must make do with merely applying his principle in order to find his likely answer ourselves. It is unlikely he would have wishes it to have an impact on the consideration of the action – after all, if it did then any serious act could be prevented simply by placing somebody there who would be injured by watching it. It is highly unlikely he would have even momentarily entertained this massive curtailment of individual liberty. There is not necessarily any need to over-think Mill’s principle by inventing wild circumstances and asking whether or not his decisions would still apply.


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