On Liberty, Canaan Stuart

Canaan Stuart
2 min readAug 25, 2020

On Liberty is a fascinating essay in that it elegantly describes, without hateful disposition, the true good and evil of society and how that may be harnessed willfully by a society.

It relates to our module specifically by introducing the harm principle. This essentially states that as long as an individual remains moral, and retains respect and the good treatment of others, their actions should be allowed by a society. To break this down, the individual should have full control over themselves within a society as long as he or she is living a life which does not harm others of that society.

The issue which counters this idea is the fact that within a society large sums of people make up the whole group’s limitations. The loudest voices are heard and the minority is left behind. This can be seen even today in the United States where minority races and cultures have been left in poverty, or at the very least economically malnourished despite the fact that they have not broken the code of the harm principle. They have done no harm to others by simply being who they are, and yet they are punished by being ignored, because the loud majority procures control and votes over the very land that they live. Even if the moral answer may be to do something which benefits the minority, the majority will always retain control of a society. This is what is described as the true evil, even over oppression itself. The root of oppression comes from majority rule.

The individual must be allowed their actions as long as they do not harm others, and society must find a way to answer that in the long term, and not just for the majority group. Within the criminal justice, many new ideas are being accounted for, but as a society we are still well on our way to the moral good. The logical issue is that in the end, someone will always be pushed down, as “All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law.” (On Liberty PG. 9)

This is the grand question which crime and justice asks us as students. How does one enable all to be served, and given punishment and justice, without trespassing on the individual’s liberty?

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