Liberty, by John Stuart Mill How John Term Paper

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Liberty, by John Stuart Mill [...] how John Stuart Mill would view the issue of pornography. Pornography has been argued by many feminists and advocates for women's rights to be pernicious to women because it eroticizes and promotes relationships of inequality and subordination of women to men. For this reason, they argue that pornography should be censored. What you think Mill would say about this? Would Mill be a principled opponent to any form of censorship, including censorship of pornography?


In this paper, I will argue that John Stuart Mill was an early proponent of equal rights for women, but he also believed in free speech, and would never advocate censorship, even of objectionable material, and his opening paragraph clearly states this fact. "The subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual" (On Liberty, Introductory, ¶ 1). In other words, Mill clearly states his position from the first sentence in his essay - there is a limit to the power that can be exercised over any individual in society, including the power of censorship. While material may be objectionable, or in the case of pornography, even filthy, everyone in society has a right to choose what he or she view, and the power of censorship is not valid in a functioning society. Each member can choose to view what they want, and what they do not want, therefore, censorship is unnecessary, and invalidates the rights of everyone. He continues with his argument that this does not reduce a man (or woman) from having a conscience, and doing what we believe is right and good for us, and for those around us.

Viewing pornography certainly falls into the category of a victimless crime, something Mill also addresses here:

But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person's life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation (On Liberty, Introductory, ¶ 12).

Pornography certainly falls into this category, as it affects only the viewer, and the only others it directly affects participated (supposedly) with their "undeceived consent and participation."

Does viewing pornography demean women? Certainly. It can also demean gay men, children, and any number of other participants. However, Mill believes each of use must use our conscience to tell us what is right and wrong, morally and otherwise, and in doing so many will do the "right" thing and not view pornography.

Many others will continue to view pornography, no matter what, which brings up another argument to simply banning pornography. It is well-known that banning something often makes it that much more enticing and that much more desirable. An outright ban on pornography could backfire, and make it more sought-after to more people than currently view it, opening it up to even more controversy and censorship. As prohibition so clearly illustrated in the 1930s, banning something is often the road to even more problems, and banning pornography could follow the very same road.

Mill understands there are certainly limits to individual independence, and there are definitely some rules that must be followed, or anarchy will result. He realistically notes, "But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general terms, the practical question, where to place the limit -- how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control -- is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done (On Liberty, Introductory, ¶ 6). Indeed, there must be some social controls. Murder is not acceptable, and neither is procuring children against their will for sexual deviance, however, a person still has the right to view deviant images, as long as they do not harm anyone else in the process. Of course, the argument exists that the deviant photos may have been made without the consent of those participating. This could be true, and is where conscience again comes into play. Are the participants in the photos adults? If so, they probably consented, made money from their consent, and as such, they are not being exploited, other…

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Works Cited

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1978.

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