Rhetoric, Harm, and the Personification of Progress in Mill's On Liberty

17 Pages Posted: 24 May 2007


"On Liberty" was written to influence the future of democratic government. To that end Mill employed rhetoric, particularly through the use of personifications, to persuade the mid-nineteenth century British electorate to embrace the cause of civil liberty. His more subtle argumentation was directed to the intelligentsia (both his contemporaries and subsequent generations). Mill's harm principle, perhaps the most influential idea in On Liberty, undergoes a significant qualification in the scope of its application in the last chapter because of the dual argumentative strategy. This has been overlooked by Mill's American interpreters who use the harm principle to justify the judicial activism of the American Supreme Court. Further, the judicial restraint of recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions can be reaffirmed through a scrutiny of Mill's rhetorical agenda.

Suggested Citation

Donohue, Brian, Rhetoric, Harm, and the Personification of Progress in Mill's On Liberty. Ratio Juris, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 196-212, June 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=988574 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9337.2007.00355.x

Brian Donohue (Contact Author)

Laurentian University ( email )

935 Ramsey Lake Road
Sudbury P3E 2C6, Ontario P3E 2C6

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