Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-dc8c957cd-mgc9c Total loading time: 0.281 Render date: 2022-01-29T12:59:42.268Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Chapter 3 - Self-sovereignty and paternalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Christian Coons
Affiliation:
Bowling Green State University, Ohio
Michael Weber
Affiliation:
Bowling Green State University, Ohio
Get access

Summary

The scope of self-sovereignty

Mill writes that the object of On Liberty is “to assert one very simple principle . . . that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” Mill concludes this famous paragraph by writing: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

The metaphor of sovereignty over self is powerful, and it captures an essential aspect of Mill’s liberalism. Each of us is entitled to govern the domains of our own minds and bodies, free from coercive intrusion. We are entitled to determine what takes place in our minds, what happens to and in our bodies, and how to use our minds and bodies for our own benefit. We are entitled to determine what to think about, what to read, what to experience in art and music, what moods to try to be in, what to daydream, what imaginary conversations to have, how to pray, whether to pray at all, what to reflect on and wonder about. We are entitled to determine what to put into our bodies and how to use our bodies for health, work, and pleasure, to determine what to eat, how to exercise, how to care for our personal hygiene, what positions to sleep in, what sexual acts to consent to, and whether to have sex at all. Obviously, though, we don’t have the right to do whatever we want with our minds and bodies, regardless of its impact on others. We don’t have the right to jump out of a window regardless of who might be below. If there were a mind-altering drug that turned us into clever and elusive serial killers, we wouldn’t have the right to take it. Self-sovereignty has limits. What are they?

Type
Chapter
Information
Paternalism
Theory and Practice
, pp. 56 - 73
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)
2
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×