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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 44, Issue 4, October 2018

Dan Threet
Pages 539-565
DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract201872743

Mill’s Social Pressure Puzzle

John Stuart Mill takes social pressure to be a serious threat to individuality, and his proposed limit to the “authority of society” in On Liberty is meant to restrain its force. This proposal creates practical and conceptual difficulties, though, because considerable social pressure can be produced as an unintended, cumulative effect of individuals simply exercising their own liberty. Existing scholarship largely underrates the degree to which this undermines the coherence of his ambitions. I argue that the puzzle cannot be resolved without rejecting part of his framework, even though his concerns about social pressure are not misplaced.