English philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill argued that people learn by choosing: this is how they become creative and productive individuals. For this reason, and because he felt that individuals are typically the most capable people to make their own choices, Mill was highly skeptical of restrictions on choice placed by a third party, such as the state.

Mill famously separated actions into two categories: (1) self-regarding actions that do not affect others; and (2) other-regarding actions that do affect, and may harm, others. In the former category he placed thought and discussion, tastes and pursuits, and association, and these were to be entirely unrestrained (On Liberty, pp. 224-25).1 On Liberty is especially concerned with other-regarding actions, which might impose harm on others, since it is here that social control might “rightfully” be exercised over the individual.

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Copyright © 2023, The Fraser Institute.

The definitive version is available at: Essential Scholars Series, The Fraser Institute (May 2023).