Preparation for the meeting on August 19th and subsequent meetings this term

Preparation for the meeting on August 19th and subsequent meetings this term

On August 5th, Juanjuan valuably drew attention to the contrast between Mill’s emphasis on freedom of expression and that of the Confucian tradition, influencing students, on respecting one’s teachers and avoiding offence.

We discussed Mill’s second chapter and agreed that we would include the third in our range for August 19th.  I offer here some questions that might be discussed at one or more of our remaining meetings (the other dates are September 2nd and 16th).  If we actually seek to engage in the kind of discussion that Mill advocates, rather than merely talk about it, we may discover much of its value as well as some of its difficulties.  Hence the first of the following questions.

1. Mill writes in Ch. 2, para. 20, of “the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity”.  What questions shall we identify as among these, and which shall we discuss?

Mill presents five areas in para. 23: “morals, religion, politics, social relations, and the business of life.”  (Instead of the old-fashioned word ‘morals’ there, we might say ‘morality’, and that suggests the question “How are we to think of morality?”.)  What areas shall we add in which some of these “greatest questions” arise?

2. “Before we can fruitfully discuss any such questions, we need to become acquainted with particular traditions of study, belief and practice, otherwise our discussion will be superficial.”  Should we agree with that?  Illustrations?

3. “Both political and religious institutions have to be concerned to keep and motivate their adherents, so their leaders cannot in practice be very keen on the kinds of open and critical discussion Mill is so keen on.”   Is that right?

4. Should we ask ourselves how we have come to hold, or no longer hold, particular beliefs and allegiances?  And enquire from others how they have come to do so?  What might be the value of doing that?  How practicable is it?

5. “Mill wrote Liberty in a context so different from ours that much of it is irrelevant to us.”  How far are we to agree with that, in relation to Chs 1-3?

6. Does Mill do justice to Christian ethics in Ch. 2, paras 37 and 38?

7. Mill’s thesis in Ch. 3 is that “the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being” (para. 2).  What does he mean by ‘the free development of individuality’?  What illustrations shall we take of that development?  Does he exaggerate its value?  Does he go wrong when he says in para. 10 that “Individuality is the same thing with development”?  (Keep in mind the four “cardinal virtues” wisdom, courage, moderation and justice.)

8. What other remarks in Ch. 3 would we like to discuss?

John Howes