Mill & Charles Taylor's Concepts Term Paper

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For him, it is also important to know that liberty, while dependent on the individual's decision alone, should also take into account the consequences that will come out upon the accomplishment of an action. That is, it is vital that the individual think of the 'bigger picture': will the action benefit the common good, or will it benefit my personal interests only? Positive liberty, hence, becomes more vital when it goes beyond thinking and speaking, and the individual engages in doing a particular activity, knowing that s/he has the freedom to do so. Mill posits on this issue, "The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people...It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person's own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress."

Parallel with Mill's argument on liberty, Taylor also elucidates a similar point in his essay, "What's wrong with negative liberty?" In this discourse, he criticizes the concept of negative liberty, which is identified as the freedom from an "area in which a man can act unobstructed by others." This concept, formulated by Isaiah Berlin, is considered by Taylor as disregarding the context in which liberty is exercised by the individual. For him, negative liberty should not be labeled as such, for liberty in its most general sense should always be applied in its "qualitative discrimination as to motive." This means that, like Mill's argument, there are actions that are 'hindered' either because they are detrimental to the majority or is too trivial to become an issue of obstructing an individual's liberty.

Thus, Taylor's argument presents an extended discussion of Mill's concept of liberty: while Mill posits that liberty must take into account the common good, Taylor suggests that liberty must not be only exercised to consider the common good of all, but also to determine whether the action does indeed obstruct an individual's perception of his/her personal or individual freedom. Elucidating on this point, Taylor argues, liberty occurs when individuals are " to recognize adequately my more important purposes, and my being able to overcome or at least neutralize my motivational fetters, as well as my way being free of external obstacles..." This passage acknowledges the subjectivity of liberty as it is perceived by individuals; in effect, its propensity to become a subjective concept makes it relative, and hence, its "positivity" or "negativity" ultimately depends, just like what Mill had suggested, to the individual's perception of and choice to exercise that freedom.

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