Appiah – Ethics of Identity – Chapter 1

Mill’s Liberalism believes that the best society is the society in which the government creates an environment where people are not only free to be themselves, but are given the capacity to be their best selves. At minimum this requires government to give us negative liberty by leaving us alone, but it also requires government and society to give us the education necessary for autonomy (within reason), the healthcare necessary to be free of the fear of death and disease (within reason), and enough financial support so that we can be said to be free (within reason).

Liberalism does not presuppose that everyone must be equal economically. The idea is that we all have different ideas about what the Good is, and we should all be free to strive for it. Each one of us may define the Good differently, and no one has the right to define what the Good is for anyone else. Each one of us, by living out our life, are living out an experiment of how one should live. Any one of us may be living for the wrong things, but no one has the right to prevent anyone else from living out what he or she believes is best…

…UNLESS one’s actions cause harm to another. “Harm” does not simply mean “displeasure” for Mill. One causes harm to another if he or she prevents him or her from living out his or her experiment as an individual who is given the capacity for autonomy and the intentional construction of a plan of life. Society has the right to stop one of its members from harming another member.

What is individuality? Individuality is NOT the arbitrary will exemplified only by being different from everyone else. Individuality does necessitate thinking for oneself, but thinking for oneself does not necessitate thinking different from everyone else. Thinking for oneself does mean being able to put into question the assumptions of one’s society, but it does not necessitate rejecting all of the beliefs of one’s society. An individual is equipped to evaluate what comprises the Good Life. Individuals learn from each other by observing the consequences of their actions, the consequences of their experiments.

In agreement with Mill, Appiah says if society does not supply its citizens the tools necessary to become individuals it is refraining from offering freedom. The ideal society creates the possibility for the freedom of the flourishing individual.


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