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A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minori A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minority views are suppressed if they do not conform with those of the majority. Written in the same period as On Liberty, shortly after the death of Mill's beloved wife and fellow-thinker Harriet, The Subjection of Women stresses the importance of equality for the sexes. Together, the works provide a fascinating testimony to the hopes and anxieties of mid-Victorian England, and offer a compelling consideration of what it truly means to be free.


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A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minori A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minority views are suppressed if they do not conform with those of the majority. Written in the same period as On Liberty, shortly after the death of Mill's beloved wife and fellow-thinker Harriet, The Subjection of Women stresses the importance of equality for the sexes. Together, the works provide a fascinating testimony to the hopes and anxieties of mid-Victorian England, and offer a compelling consideration of what it truly means to be free.

30 review for On Liberty and The Subjection of Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    haley

    Read for: Intro to Political Theory To be honest, I didn't read it as thoroughly as I should have. The only one I really actually read instead of skimmed was "Chapter 2: On the liberty of thought and discussion". Aka Freedom of Speech. And it was well written enough to merit the four stars. I gotta say, I like Mill's ideas. Review to come after a second reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dino

    Both JSM’s essays are extremely important and remain highly relevant for the times we are in. On Liberty Mill’s objective in the essay is to assert what he regards as a simple principle: society must not interfere with the liberty of action of any of its members, except to protect the rest of its members from harm. The ideas in “On Liberty” remain highly relevant today. To take one example, consider the case of Transgender rights. Mill would say that people – at least adults with the normal capa Both JSM’s essays are extremely important and remain highly relevant for the times we are in. On Liberty Mill’s objective in the essay is to assert what he regards as a simple principle: society must not interfere with the liberty of action of any of its members, except to protect the rest of its members from harm. The ideas in “On Liberty” remain highly relevant today. To take one example, consider the case of Transgender rights. Mill would say that people – at least adults with the normal capacities - should be free to run experiments on their own lives without interference. We cannot presume to know better than them their feelings and preferences and should not interfere with their freedom to self-identify as a woman or as a man. Some good reasons not to interfere are: • We could be wrong - gender might be entirely socially constructed and not fixed by our natal sex • It would be an infringement of that person’s sovereignty over their own body • We have a personal interest in our own well-being and unique access to our thoughts and preferences, so no one else is better positioned to know what’s right for us • When we interfere things often end badly due to a wrong approach or unintended consequences Under Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, actions are meritorious when they bring about good consequences, net of their harms. Legitimizing the rights of transgender people undoubtedly benefits some – those who feel trapped in the wrong body - but the analysis would be incomplete without considering the harms. Children, believing themselves trans, may be given hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty only to feel dismay and regret their eventual sterility. If predatory men self-identify as trans women to access women-only spaces, women are worse off. The trans issue thus lies at the border of Mill’s two principles. The first being that individuals are sovereign over their own bodies and minds, and the second that they must not cause harm to others. Mill considers gambling houses and pimps as other examples where the two principles converge, and his assessment suggests he would likely err on the side of allowing such activities despite the social harms. It’s important to appreciate both sides of Mill’s argument. He is granting great liberty to individuals to develop their own individuality in ways the rest of society dislike or deem harmful to oneself. But if things work out badly then the actor alone must bear the consequences. Unsurprisingly, Mill is unsympathetic to charity, as revealed by his remarks on the poor: “…if what they need is given to them unearned, they cannot be compelled to earn it: that everybody cannot be taken care of by everybody, but there must be some motive to induce people to take care of themselves; and that to be helped to help themselves, if they are physically capable of it, is the only charity which proves to be charity in the end.” The most important of Mill’s arguments are those he advances in support of the free expression of opinions. “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race... If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Mill has a dim view of custom, whether religious or secular, because customs are accepted unquestioningly and are grounded in beliefs we do not hold with conviction. Because most religious people do not question their beliefs, the doctrines of their faith have no real sway over their lives. Often believers and non-believers are indistinguishable in how they live. We can only believe deeply when we consider the other side of the argument, and contradiction is vital for the emergence of truth. “there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices,” Mill has a deep respect for Plato, because through his dialectics, he explored the foundations of our beliefs. I find Mill’s arguments highly resonant and relevant for the current environment in which we live. We are witnessing a polarization of society in the U.S. and elsewhere, and a refusal by many people to consider opinions which oppose their beliefs and ideologies. Still more disconcerting is the accompanying surge of intolerance that we see in the rise of anti-immigration campaigns and calls for protectionism. As the world’s nations, led by the U.S., become more insular and homogeneous, we risk forgetting the reasons, so brilliantly articulated by John Stuart Mill, for why diversity should be so cherished and defended by a free society. On the Subjection of Women There are many layers to the subjection of women. Mill understood that their mental subjection – the enslavement of their minds by the social order – was more harmful than their inability to own property, hold public office, freely seek out a profession and so forth. Men hold “women’s [minds] in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness.” The harms from the unequal social relations between men and women, argues Mill, are manifold. The obvious harm accrues to women who, outside of managing a household and raising children - a temporary occupation for most – have no opportunity to create a meaningful life by applying their talents to worthy goals and pursuits. Society, too, is worse off because we lose out on the product of the talent and energy of one half of humanity. While Mill concedes that history’s geniuses are overwhelming men, he makes the Black Swan argument; the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The real reason women’s achievements have not equaled those of the best men, argues Mill convincingly, is they have not had the opportunity. Their time is diverted to fulfilling their socially given role of attending to their looks and dress, making themselves charming, and being at the beck and call of everyone around them. The subtlest and most surprising of the victim groups identified by Mill turns out to be the boys and men who wield power over women. Plato wrote that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. Mill, no stranger of Plato, expresses a similar belief that oppressors are worse off than the oppressed. “Think what it is to a boy, to grow up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or any exertion of his own, though he may be the most frivolous and empty or the most ignorant and stolid of mankind, by the mere fact of being born a male he is by right the superior of all and every one of an entire half of the human race” It is no surprise that Mill, whose thinking was so influenced by an awareness of human fallibility, would regard the endowment of a false sense of superiority as such a pernicious evil. For Mill, “conduct, and conduct alone, entitles to respect: that not what men are, but what they do, constitutes their claim to deference; that, above all, merit, and not birth, is the only rightful claim to power and authority.” Mill’s essay on the subjection of women could hardly be more relevant in the time of #MeToo. It turns out that, more than a century and a half after Mill’s publication, women have not been completely freed from the tyranny of men. There can be little doubt that Mill, though he would be dismayed by how long it took, would see progress in our holding the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world accountable.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ke

    On Liberty For the most part, the essay was clear, concise, logical and even at times (at least I found it) humorous. As a Chinese, I found the Chinese references quite interesting. I liked how it placed some emphasis on education. Why wasn't it longer? Subjection of Women As someone who has experienced the treatment of women in Asia, Europe and America, I was surprised how insightful the tract was on the subject. In my opinion, Mill does a great job acknowledging the view of his critics.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarede Switzer

    Read On Liberty 2 weeks ago and then last week read The Subjection of Women. Who knew that JSM was such a feminist! Written from a place of reason and humility. I'd be interested in learning more about how influential he actually was in terms of policies.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    Mill at his most sympathetic.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ghadah Al_bariqi

    This book has some essays on the origin and nature of subjection of women. How women could liberate themselves from patriarchal system and patriarchal thinking.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lovely Fortune

    The two stars is mostly based on Mill's writing style as I cannot stand the extremely long paragraphs (there was literally a paragraph that took up four pages). Someone needed to teach this guy about separating related thoughts. It really made the process of reading this seem like a chore when I was confronted with these huge chunks of text, that while they may have been filled with well-thought out points and examples, were lost to me as I just tried to get through it. Still, this must have bee The two stars is mostly based on Mill's writing style as I cannot stand the extremely long paragraphs (there was literally a paragraph that took up four pages). Someone needed to teach this guy about separating related thoughts. It really made the process of reading this seem like a chore when I was confronted with these huge chunks of text, that while they may have been filled with well-thought out points and examples, were lost to me as I just tried to get through it. Still, this must have been so radical for the time. Women? Having rights?! That's insanity! No seriously, I mean you just read this and think, "exactly" because what he says is so true. It's no one's fault that they're born into whatever body. How does one's gender suddenly mean they shouldn't have rights? It's not cool, and it's great to read someone from a time when these ideas weren't popular highlighting dumb inequalities based in male egotism.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laurent

    For the five star rating to have any meaning, I have to reserve it only for books that have a lasting impact on me and have become a permanent formative text, and this is one of them. All reviews like this are subjective of course, but in my various political/philosophical explorations to clarify where I stood in the world, this is probably the closest I've come to a book that resonates almost entirely with how I think and feel. The one exception being that JS Mill didn't seem to approve all tha For the five star rating to have any meaning, I have to reserve it only for books that have a lasting impact on me and have become a permanent formative text, and this is one of them. All reviews like this are subjective of course, but in my various political/philosophical explorations to clarify where I stood in the world, this is probably the closest I've come to a book that resonates almost entirely with how I think and feel. The one exception being that JS Mill didn't seem to approve all that much of having a good time in a physical sort of way. Other than that, his discussion not only of the freedom of the individual from the State, laws, religion and the usual powers that be, but also from the temptation to restrict his own freedoms through a tendancy to fall in line with "right-thinking people" is spectacular. He wants individuals to always think critically, to be objective and non-judgemental, to always apply what I had previously come to call the "Balance of harm" test to restricting liberty. If forbidding something does more harm than good, there is insufficient grounds to do so. Then the argument moves on to what constitutes harm. An important example relevant to our times is that JS Mill does not consider that one has a right not to be offended, which is essential to maintain free speech. Finally, reading between the lines abot what sort of man he was, I think that I can categorically state that the Pythons were wrong to claim that "John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill". He wouldn't have touched the stuff. Whatever anyone else thought of that. Just read it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vivian

    This earned four stars not so much because of its content or delivery, but because if it had not been available in this audio format I would never have been exposed to the these persons and their ideologies. "Giants of Political Thought" is a series produced by Knowledge Products. Summaries, quotes, excerpts, and biographical snippets are delivered by a narrator and voice actors. What I found to be very helpful was that they were placed within the context of their times. I would benefit even more i This earned four stars not so much because of its content or delivery, but because if it had not been available in this audio format I would never have been exposed to the these persons and their ideologies. "Giants of Political Thought" is a series produced by Knowledge Products. Summaries, quotes, excerpts, and biographical snippets are delivered by a narrator and voice actors. What I found to be very helpful was that they were placed within the context of their times. I would benefit even more if I were to then jot down some notes, google more information, and then read the works discussed. Alas, time constrains and I content myself with listening as I commute. Having said that, I strongly believe that our society would greatly benefit if more of us would study these works and talk about them and frame them within our time. I was so surprised to learn that so much of what I take for granted are actually very recent developments, speaking historically. I find myself appreciating my freedoms and rights in a new way. I wonder if I could form, expound, and defend ideas as these "giants of thought" did so well in their time. One point of interest is that this Mary Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    5 stars for On Liberty. I picked it up because Mill's concern of suppression of liberty through social pressure rather than despotic rule seemed timely given the aggressive turn of social justice in the past half-decade. To my surprise and delight, most of the essay is both relevant and fascinating. Mill decries the single-perspective view of reality that still plagues our politics. He perfectly examines the tone argument some 140 years before the term was coined. On Liberty offers no easy answe 5 stars for On Liberty. I picked it up because Mill's concern of suppression of liberty through social pressure rather than despotic rule seemed timely given the aggressive turn of social justice in the past half-decade. To my surprise and delight, most of the essay is both relevant and fascinating. Mill decries the single-perspective view of reality that still plagues our politics. He perfectly examines the tone argument some 140 years before the term was coined. On Liberty offers no easy answer, but plenty of food for thought. The Subjection of Women, on the other hand is a relic. It is much more a persuasion piece rather than philosophical treaty, and fortunately everything he attempts to persuade is generally accepted today. He also manages to really put his foot in it several places throughout the essay by playing along with ideas he has thoroughly refuted. For example: At several points, he emphasizes that everything considered "the nature of women" is actually something his culture had fostered (great point!), but then in the pursuit of persuasion, has decides to entertain the notion that women do have a nature - and suddenly sounds very much like a 19th Century gentleman.

  11. 5 out of 5

    William

    Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minority views are suppressed if they do not conform with tho Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. A prodigiously brilliant thinker who sharply challenged the beliefs of his age, the political and social radical John Stuart Mill was the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. Regarded as one of the sacred texts of liberalism, his great work On Liberty argues lucidly that any democracy risks becoming a 'tyranny of opinion' in which minority views are suppressed if they do not conform with those of the majority. Written in the same period as On Liberty, shortly after the death of Mill's beloved wife and fellow-thinker Harriet, The Subjection Of Women stresses the importance of equality for the sexes. Together, the works provide a fascinating testimony to the hopes and anxieties of mid-Victorian England, and offer a compelling consideration of what it truly means to be free.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Miranda Starmz

    Mill has some interesting thoughts on what it means to be free, and I'm not sure I really agree with his ideal society. His pre-feminist work is commendable but, not surprisingly, not as well thought-out as 'On Liberty'. Still, it's commendable and somehow heartwarming for him to be so enthusiastic about female rights. No doubt his wife Harriet had some influence on that, though I also think she would've reprimanded the subtly misogynistic assumptions he very occasionally makes. There's a lot to Mill has some interesting thoughts on what it means to be free, and I'm not sure I really agree with his ideal society. His pre-feminist work is commendable but, not surprisingly, not as well thought-out as 'On Liberty'. Still, it's commendable and somehow heartwarming for him to be so enthusiastic about female rights. No doubt his wife Harriet had some influence on that, though I also think she would've reprimanded the subtly misogynistic assumptions he very occasionally makes. There's a lot to comment on, but it's no longer fresh in my very short-term memory and I really must come back to this again. I'm sure grappling with Mill on freedom and society will be a good philosophical exercise.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Does anyone else feel sorry for John Stuart Mill, after all those years waiting for the woman he loved to be free, they finally get married, then she catches TB and dies. I've read these before; I'm sure of it. This year, I decided to re-read them because of Mill's mention in a PBS special and in A History of Britain. The surprising thing is that much of what Mill says, even the feminst tract is still current today. We are still debating freedom and gender. I don't know whether Mill would be groan Does anyone else feel sorry for John Stuart Mill, after all those years waiting for the woman he loved to be free, they finally get married, then she catches TB and dies. I've read these before; I'm sure of it. This year, I decided to re-read them because of Mill's mention in a PBS special and in A History of Britain. The surprising thing is that much of what Mill says, even the feminst tract is still current today. We are still debating freedom and gender. I don't know whether Mill would be groaning that we still haven't gotten it right, but he would at least be happy that we're discussing it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Two books in one. On Liberty is the work that, more than any other, establishes the basis of modern Liberalism and I can certainly see why. Some of the writing style feels (inevitably) a bit dated, but the themes and principles discussed are as relevant now as they ever were - if not more so. The Subjection of Women was published in 1869 and argues for equality between the sexes. In many ways, this essay takes the ideas established in On Liberty and applies them to an issue of the time. This alon Two books in one. On Liberty is the work that, more than any other, establishes the basis of modern Liberalism and I can certainly see why. Some of the writing style feels (inevitably) a bit dated, but the themes and principles discussed are as relevant now as they ever were - if not more so. The Subjection of Women was published in 1869 and argues for equality between the sexes. In many ways, this essay takes the ideas established in On Liberty and applies them to an issue of the time. This alone makes for interesting reading but it is also surprising just how many of Mill's points are still relevant today.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    My review is for The Subjection of Women part of the collection which I read for Victorian Britain. Mill writes a fantastic argument for the inclusion of women in realms outside of the family and brilliantly tears down the arguments of those who oppose him. An absolutely essential book for those studying women's history or history in general.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Nuccio

    This book gives an excellent introduction to one of the most important thinkers and founders of classic liberalism, which is certainty different from contemporary progressivism. Those who consider themselves libertarian should definitely give this collection of Mill's two most important essays a read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I guess I hate myself? I guess not!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bailey

    2.5. Good information. Still relevant today. Just wasn't that interested in it. School read

  19. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Chronology Introduction Further Reading A Note on the Texts --On Liberty --The Subjection of Women Notes

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steven Logan

    What a fucking masterpiece.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Armstrong

    Very interesting read particularly interesting in the development of liberalism due to Mill’s utilitarianism which means he can’t argue for individual liberty in the same way Locke or others had. The final chapter in On Liberty in its exploration of the size of government and its arguments against an all-encompassing are very interesting and go under appreciated. The Subjugation of Women, though antiquated in part, offers some interesting and compelling arguments that show how desperate he was t Very interesting read particularly interesting in the development of liberalism due to Mill’s utilitarianism which means he can’t argue for individual liberty in the same way Locke or others had. The final chapter in On Liberty in its exploration of the size of government and its arguments against an all-encompassing are very interesting and go under appreciated. The Subjugation of Women, though antiquated in part, offers some interesting and compelling arguments that show how desperate he was to see the barbarism of gender inequality ended. The only reason it remains only a 4 star is because I found it slightly inaccessible but that is probably just my fault.

  22. 5 out of 5

    lauren

    I read 'On Liberty' for university, so I'm DNF'ing the other essay Honestly, essays are so boring. Mill didn't have to make his writing so stuffy or nitty. He could have used ordinary language and short sentences, and his writing would be so much more engaging and fun to read. I had to start skim reading it because it was boring me to death. I want to 'The Subjection of Women', so I'm DNF'ing this for now. I couldn't bring myself to read any more of Mill at the present moment. Maybe some time in I read 'On Liberty' for university, so I'm DNF'ing the other essay Honestly, essays are so boring. Mill didn't have to make his writing so stuffy or nitty. He could have used ordinary language and short sentences, and his writing would be so much more engaging and fun to read. I had to start skim reading it because it was boring me to death. I want to 'The Subjection of Women', so I'm DNF'ing this for now. I couldn't bring myself to read any more of Mill at the present moment. Maybe some time in the future. Who knows. We'll see, lmao.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Macgregor

    Four out of five stars because where both essays had strong arguments and interesting premises, at times the writing itself was dense and unclear and at other times the ideas became muddled as Mill's seemed to try to find a strange middle ground between ideals of 19th century Britain and the more radical proposals/ideas he was putting foward. Overall, good read, may not mix well with modern ideas and morals, but advance for the time it was created with many still revelant points.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ria

    Mill has proven time and time again that he was one of the greatest thinkers of his time, and a pioneer for a progressive, and truly modern society. Despite having lived a considerably long time ago, the thoughts of this man are undoubtedly still a fountain of wisdome and contain a plethora of valuable life lessons.

  25. 5 out of 5

    La_dama_de_Ise

    THE GOOD: THE BAD: ANYTHING ELSE: - Only read, for now, 'On liberty', as it was chosen for a book club

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anri

    I can't believe the subjection of women was written two centuries ago, it is still highly relevant.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    Much hate. No comprehend.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    If 👏🏻 we 👏🏻 knew 👏🏻 this 👏🏻 in 1851 why are we still struggling with it

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Mic drop. Its not an easy read given the writing style but the hypotheses and talking points he raises are valid today still.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Hunt

    A refreshingly sympathetic perspective - from a 19th century white male - on the subjection of women at the time. Credit to Harriet Taylor Mill!

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