Theses Bachelor's

Individuality, Liberty, and Participation: J.S. Mill’s Democratic Synthesis

Cohen, Matthew Ian

This thesis argues that JS Mill’s political thought in general, and his theory of liberty in particular, are best understood through the lens of his concept of “individuality," which he develops in his seminal treatise "On Liberty." Contrary to the accusations of many critics, I claim that Mill is not torn between fundamentally inconsistent moral and social commitments. Understanding individuality to mean, roughly, the self-development of character, we can frame Mill’s view of liberty as the opportunity to attain individuality. This formulation expands upon - but does not contradict - the liberal notion of freedom as unobstructed choice, by taking into account forms of subjection which, while more subtle than direct interference, nevertheless restrict self-development. Ultimately, I argue, individuality acts as the conceptual link between Mill’s supposedly divergent positions, including his utilitarianism, his strident anti-paternalism, and his complex vision of political, social, and economic democracy.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Urbinati, Nadia
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2021


This is a senior thesis submitted to the Political Science Department for departmental honors. Faculty Adviser: Professor Nadia Urbinati; Seminar Leader: Professor Macartan Humphreys.