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How does J.S. Mill's liberty principle encourage paternalistic intervention? Mill's liberty principle states that :

“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over a member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

Mill believes that paternalistic intervention is necessary for children and barbarians, however how does it also account for the rest of the community? I am unsure how the prevention of harm would encourage paternalistic interventions.

UPDATE: Can someone explain this:

These are reasonably strong consequentialist arguments against giving the state a broad discretionary power to engage in paternalistic legislation whenever it sees fit. However, they do not support a categorical ban on paternalism. In particular, these arguments provide no principled objection to paternalism—no objection to successful paternalistic restrictions on B's liberty that do in fact benefit B. This weakness in Mill's explicit argument against paternalism is like the weakness in his truth-tracking defense of freedom of expression. Just as that argument provided no objection to successful censorship (censorship of all and only false belief), so too this argument provides no objection to successful paternalism (A's restrictions on B's liberty that do benefit B). Perhaps some who object to paternalism are only concerned with unsuccessful paternalism. But many would have doubts about successful paternalism. For it is common to think that individuals have a right to make choices in their own personal affairs and that this includes a right to make choices that are imprudent. Source : http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill-moral-political/#Pat

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No 'categorical ban on paternalism' in Mill - first error

It is clear that in general Mill rejects a paternalist relation between the state with its power, and the person with her/ his autonomy and individuality. But Mill also supports both weak and strong paternalism, in senses distinguished below.

The liberty principle does not encourage paternalism - second error

While this is so, it is not the liberty principle, promoting individual autonomy and individuality, which 'encourages' paternalism but the state's responsibility to promote public - the general - happiness. If the liberty principle is a rule, there are exceptions to it; and Mill does not hesitate to face them. (Note that I am not here presenting Mill as a rule utilitarian; that is far too involved a topic to deal with here, only arguing that the liberty principle is a rule.)

Mill's general critique of paternalism

The main question that Mill had put to himself to answer in On Liberty was: What were the limits of power which could be legitimately and justifiably exercised by society over the individual? (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 560.)

Point 1

In Chapter IV, Of The Limits to the Authority of Society Over the Individual , Mill defended the right of the individual in the private sphere on utilitarian grounds, insisting that if society interfered it was bound to be in an erroneous way, and that it would not be for the citizen's benefit: 'But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct is that, when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place.' ((Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 561.)

Point 2

In Chapter V, Applications , Mill presented objections to government interference, arguing that there was no one so fit to conduct any business, or to determine how or by whom it should be conducted, 'as those who are personally interested in iť. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 561.)

Point 3

Furthermore, it was desirable that citizens would conduct their own affairs, as a means to their own mental education - 'a mode of strengthening their active faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a familiar knowledge of the subjects with which they are thus left to deal.' Education meant for Mill the cultivation of the intellect, of moral powers, and of aesthetic. Education is not to teach, 'but to fit the mind for learning from its own consciousness and observation'. The reasoning is: A good government cultivates moral education; moral education makes human beings moral, thinking people who do not merely act as machines and, in the long run, makes people to claim control over their own actions and inspires them to intensely seek the truth. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 561.)

Point 4

Finally, the most cogent reason for objection to such an interference was 'the great evil' of adding unnecessarily to the power of government, both in the form of authority, and still more, in the indirect form of influence: 'Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused...'. Mill, like many liberals, was suspicious of the government, very cognizant of its powers and tendency to exaggerate and to overstep its conduct beyond necessary when exaggeration deemed to yield partisan benefits. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 561-2.)

Paternalism

Against the general principles against government interference Mill pitted government's responsibility to promote happiness. Generally speaking, whenever there was a probability that by interference the government would impede individual's development, it should not interfere. Since this probability was usually present, governments - as a rule - should not intervene in the business of the individual. Moreover, governments should encourage all segments of the community to manage their joint concerns by voluntary cooperation. Thus it appeared that the general principles supplement one another and can be reconciled. But then Mill went on to qualify his arguments, explaining that there were cases in which the reasons against interference did not turn upon the principle of liberty. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 562.)

Joel Feinberg draws a distinction between weak and strong forms of paternalism.

Feinberg asserts that the basis of paternalistic intervention is con- fined to the interests of the person with whom we interfere. According to the weak version we are justified in interfering with a self-harming conduct only when a person is not fully capable of grasping the meaning of her act; whereas by strong paternalism we are justified in interfering to prevent a person from harming herself even when her decision is fully voluntary. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 574.)

From Mill's arguments and examples we may learn, adopting Feinberg's terminology, that he sometimes favoured a degree of weak, or it may be preferable to call it soft paternalism, but on some matters, such as unripe marriage and irresponsible divorce, he did not shrink from strong (or hard) paternalism. Thus, I suggest that Mill's paternalism may be best described as elastic. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 574.)

Weak paternalism

Mill endorsed soft [weak] paternalism when he exempted children and barbarians from his Liberty Principle and also when he allowed stopping a person from crossing an unstable bridge when we suspect that that person is oblivious to the risk. But if the person, after being warned, choose nevertheless to cross the bridge, then we need to respect her decision. In the spirit of liberalism, Mill supported regulation rather than coercion or outright prohibition. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 574.)

Another example with a similar reasoning relates to the use of poisonous articles. Mill acknowledged that those substances can be abused but an outright ban on their sale would make legitimate use impossible. Regulation, however, is in place due to the nature of the articles. Thus registration of purchasers, including a statement of intended use, is permissible. This is interference in one's freedom that does not challenge autonomy. As long as such regulation is no material impediment to obtaining the dangerous articles, people are free to make their own decisions Mill held that the State had the right to prevent self-regarding harmful conduct only when it was substantially non-voluntary, or when temporary intervention was necessary to establish whether it was voluntary or not. He generally opposed the strong version: 'with respect to his own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 574-5.)

Strong paternalism

There is a place for strong paternalism. Let's explore this.

Perpetual contracts

Governments may control, through legislation, contracts in general, especially those in perpetuity. For it is not enough that one person, not being either cheated or compelled, makes a promise to another. There are promises by which it is not for the public good that persons should have the power of binding themselves, although this conduct is purely self-regarding in character. Thus there remain the questions 'Whether, for example, the law should enforce a contract to labour, when the wages are too low, or the hours of work too severe; whether it should enforce a contract by which a person binds himself to remain, for more than a very limited period, in the service of a given individual; whether a marriage vow, entered into for life, should continue to be enforced against the deliberate will of the persons, or of either of the persons who entered into it.' [Principles of Political Economy.] Mill summarized his argument by saying that every question which could possibly arise as to the policy of contracts was a question for the legislator, which she could not escape from considering.

Thus, in cases of perpetual contracts, the presumption that individuals know their own private interests better than others does not hold. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 566-7.)

Birth control

Mill did not believe in the power of laws alone to shape society. The shaping of society is a matter of moral development. Birth control was both a matter for State interference and social stigma. Mill was an ardent advocate of birth control. For him this was an issue about one's health, personal liberty and mental development. Mill suggested that society can be justified not only to prevent harm to others but also in requiring people to aid one another with various sorts of positive assistance. Indeed, in 1823, when Mill was seven- teen, he went with a friend to visit the poor sections of London, pro- fessing and advocating the use of contraceptives. From the fact that he did not mention this experience in his Autobiography we can learn that he was not too proud of this act, or of the result, i.e., his arrest by the police for contravening laws on obscenity. Mill held the view that one should consider the pros and cons in bringing children to the world in economical terms; that a family should bring children only if it had the means to support them. In his obsession with this issue, Mill rationalised that since no person had the right to bring creatures into life, to be supported by other people, laws which forbade marriage unless the parties can show that they had means of supporting a family, 'do not exceed the legitimate powers of the State' and 'are not objectionable as violations of liberty'.

Mill's ideas should be considered in the context of his time, when young couples could not live together if they were not married. Such things were not to be done. Thus the State was able and, in Mill's opinion, legitimate to prevent unripe marriages. This is quite an intervention into one's private life. According to McCloskey, in a letter to Harriet Taylor, Mill also approved of social pressure to discourage the joint self-regarding act of divorce by mutual consent, where no other party is harmed. The State knows better than the couples whether they should come into unity or divorce. The good of society precedes individual autonomy and liberty. Here, Mill's paternalism is hard, and is difficult to be reconciled with the grounds against government interference supra, and with Mill's statement that 'all restraint, qua restraint, is an evil'. (Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582: 570-1.)

Summary

In view of complex set of cases above, Raphael Cohen-Almagor's label of elastic paternalism seems exactly right. He lists other cases which there is not the space to consider here. Such as it is, however, Mill's paternalism is not 'encouraged' by the liberty principle but by the state's responsibility to override the liberal principle in particular cases to promote the public - the general - happiness.

References

J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1st ed. 1848; 7th ed., 1871. Bk V : https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-principles-of-political-economy-ashley-ed

J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 1859 : https://www.gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm

J.S. Mill, Autobiography, 1873 : http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10378/10378-h/10378-h.htm

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, 'Between Autonomy and State Regulation: J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism', Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 342 (October 2012), pp. 557-582.

J. Feinberg, 'Legal Paternalism', Canadian Journal of Philosophy I (1971), 105-124.

H.J. McCloskey, John Stuart Mill : A Critical Study (London: Macmillan, 1971), p. 111.

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I am a little bit puzzled, because you assume that Mill's liberty principle can encourage paternalistic intervention. However, Mill's liberty principle, as you quote, denies any kind of of intervention except to prevent harm dont to others.

Instances of paternalistic intervention would be, for example, the ban on drugs, because they are not good for yourself. The last sentence, i.e. "His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.", states that taking drugs without harming other people is fine.

The quoted SEP article seems to confuse his two consequentialist arguments against paternalistic intervention and his liberty principle.

His two arguments according to SEP are "First, state power is liable to abuse" and "Second, even well intentioned rulers will misidentify the good of citizens". But as I pointed out above, his liberty principle explicitly rules out any paternalistic intervention, good or bad, working or not working.

Also, it seems that Mill is after something like the following. Given that an institution has so much power to intervene with the people, even if they never abuse it, they could, and that is sufficient not to have such an institution. The possibility of abuse weighs more than the 'good' that could be done.

  • I added more sources. – user Mar 24 '15 at 5:08
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Without some kind of intervention, the state has no effects whatsoever. But Mill is ruling out 'maternalistic' intervention: intervention to improve someone's life by adding rules to it for the presumed common good, and allowing only 'paternalistic' intervention: intervention to protect one person from another's harm.

Earlier 'maternalistic' intervention can easily prevent later 'paternalistic' intervention. But if we back off from allowing the former, we become rigidly and paranoiacally ready to apply the latter, or we do not feel safe at all.

If we cannot pull you over to measure your BAC unless you are about to hit someone, but we can sentence you to death for killing someone if you drive drunk, we will be doing more of the latter. And if this kind of rigidity is the norm in the population's mind, we will have more and more draconian punishments for being dangerous.

We will be more and more willing to overreact to slight dangers that predict greater ones, creating a profusion of paternalistic rules, and less and less willing to identify behaviors that are not dangerous but can easily become so and shape behavior more subtly.

(Unlike the previous poster, I see the drug ban as nanny-statish, and not paternalistic, during more libertarian periods of U.S. history, it was assumed that any drug ban was automatically unconstitutional.)

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