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Synopsis

On Liberty is undoubtedly the most influential and best known of the works by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. And unlike many philosophical works, it is written in relatively easy to understand language and is fairly short. It is, therefore, one of those books which is very often included on reading lists for schools and colleges. Despite this apparent accessibility, however, the book and its key messages are open to misunderstandings.
As with many books of apparent general principle, it is difficult to understand On Liberty properly without knowing something of the conditions in which it was written. Both the world in general and Mills' life in particular had a profound impact on the book and the thinking behind it.
By establishing in clear and direct language the "principle of harm", On Liberty established in the public consciousness a principle that had been touched on by others but which was now put at the forefront of public debate. The idea that a person should be free to do anything they wish so long as it does not harm others is now espoused by anyone who claims to be liberal or enlightened. His setting forth of the three basic freedoms that a person needs to enjoy to be deemed "free" have been similarly popular. These are the freedom of speech, the freedom of action and the freedom of assembly.
Although On Liberty is flawed in some places, and now seriously out of date in others, its influence on liberal thinking has been immense and continuous. A
This edition includes a new introduction and conclusion by historian Rupert Matthews in which he sets out the background to the writing of the book - both the general political situation of the time and the very particular personal situation in which John Stuart Mill found himself.

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