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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 5, 1979

Richard J. Arneson
Pages 89-119

Mill Versus Paternalism

This paper attempts a defense of John Stuart Mill’s absolute ban against paternalistic restrictions on liberty. Mill’s principle looks more credible once we recognize that some instances of what are thought to be justified instances of paternalism are not instances of paternalism at all—e.g. anti-duelling laws. An interpretation of Mill’s argument is advanced which stresses his commitment to autonomy and his suggestion that exactly the same reasons which favor absolute freedom of speech also favor an absolute prohibition of paternalism. Alternative expositions and appraisals of Mill by Gerald Dworkin and Joel Feiriberg are criticized. Finally, consideration is given to two arguments that render Mill’s principle trivial via the denial that there are any significant self-regarding actions.