Chapter 3

Individuality, As One Of The Elements Of Well-being

by John Stuart Mill Icon

Those are the reasons why humans should be free to:

  • form opinions
  • express their opinions without reserve

But should humans be also free to act them out?

Actions should not be as free as opinions.

On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act.

There might be opinions:

  • that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor
  • that private property is robbery
These opinions should be allowed to freely circulate through the press. But these can be punished when:

Acts without justifiable cause that do harm to others might come from the unfavourable sentiments*. These need the active interference of mankind.

*Superphysics note: Mill promotes the free circulation of hurtful ideas not knowing that those hurtful ideas lead to hurtful actions that he is against. So in effect, he is promoting something that he doesn’t like.

Thus, the liberty of the individual must be limited. He must not make himself a nuisance to other people.

But this contradicts the rule of letting opinions be free.

The imperfection of mankind leads to the need for different opinions. This means that there should be different experiments of living. Free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others. The worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them.*

*Superphysics Note: Here, Mill encourages inequality


Individuality should assert itself in things which do not primarily concern others.

This individuality will add happiness when the traditions or customs are insufficient in providing it. This happiness will lead to social progress.

The greatest difficulty with this principle is the indifference of persons to the end itself.

Liberty would not be undervalued if individuality were enshrined as one of the leading essentials of well-being. It would make the adjustment of the boundaries between individuality and social control easier*.

*Superphysics Note: This is disproven by the high incidence of mass shootings and race riots in the US


But the evil is that individual spontaneity is not seen as having any value.

The majority are satisfied with the ways as they now are. Spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of the majority of moral and social reformers. It is is rather looked on with jealousy, as a troublesome and rebellious obstruction to what would be best for mankind.

Wilhelm von Humboldt of Germany was an eminent as a savant and a politician. He wrote that:

"the goal of man is to develop his powers to a complete and consistent whole in the highest and most harmonious way. Thus everyone must focus on the individuality of power and development. Freedom and a a variety of situations are needed for this, which will then lead to individual vigour and manifold diversity which combine themselves in "originality"

Few people know Von Humboldt’s doctrine. Few put so high a value to individuality.

Excellence cannot be achieved by doing absolutely nothing but copying one another.

On the other hand, it would be absurd if people neglected the knowledge of others. However, humans should use and interpret experience in his own way upon reaching maturity.

The traditions and customs of other people are based on their own experience. But this has problems:

  1. Their experience may be too narrow; or they may not have interpreted it rightly.

  2. Their interpretation of experience may be correct, but unsuitable to him.

Customs are made for customary circumstances, and customary characters. His circumstances or his character might be uncustomary.

  1. Conform to good customs might not educate or develop his individuality

The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and moral preference, are exercised only by making choices.

When you follow a custom, you make no choice. You do not practice discernment. The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used.

What men do and how they do it are important. If houses were built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and prayers said by machines, then humans will be starved of human development.

Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it. Instead, it is a tree which requires development on all sides.

An understanding of customs is better than a blind belief in custom.

People should exercise their understandings. An intelligent following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent deviation from custom, is better than a blind mechanical adhesion to it.

People do not readily admit that their desires and impulses are their own.

Yet a perfect human being also has desires and impulses just as he has beliefs and restraints. Strong impulses are only perilous when not properly balanced,

It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act bad. Iit is because their consciences are weak.

There is no natural connection between strong impulses and a weak conscience. The natural connection is the other way.*

*Superphysics Note: Here, Mill shows his ignorance of the concept of the ego being the effect of the Negative Force.

Person A’s feelings are stronger and more various than those of Person B. He:

  • has more of the raw material of human nature
  • is capable of more evil or more good.

Strong impulses are but another name for energy.

Energy may be turned to bad uses. But more good may always be made of an energetic nature, than of an indolent one.

The same energy which makes personal impulses vivid and powerful, are also the source of virtue and self-control.

It is through the cultivation of this personal power that society both does its duty and protects its interests: not by rejecting the stuff of which heroes are made, because it knows not how to make them.

A person has character if his desires and impulses are his own– the expression of his own nature.

One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character. He is like a steam-engine that has a character.

Those who reject the encouragement of individuality of desires and impulses imply that society has no need of strong natures.

In some early states of society, these strong forces might were too much ahead of the governors of society. Spontaneity and individuality was then in excess. The social principle had a hard struggle with it.

The difficulty then was, to induce men of strong bodies or minds to pay obedience to any rules which required them to control their impulses.

To overcome this difficulty, law and discipline, like the Popes struggling against the Emperors, asserted a power over the whole man, claiming to control all his life in order to control his character—which society had not found any other sufficient means of binding.

But society has now fairly got the better of individuality. Its danger on human nature is the deficiency of personal impulses, not the excess.

In our times, everyone lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship.

The people do not ask themselves:

  • what do I prefer?
  • what would suit my character and disposition?
  • what would allow the best in me to have fair-play and enable it to grow and thrive?

They ask themselves:

  • what is suitable to my position?
  • what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances?
  • (worse still) what is usually done by persons of circumstances superior to mine?

I do not mean that they choose custom over their own inclination. I mean that it does not occur to them to incline beyond what is customary.

Thus, the mind itself is bowed to the yoke. Even when people seek pleasure, they think of conformity first.


  • live in crowds
  • exercise choice only among things commonly done

Peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct are shunned with crimes until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to follow their human capacities are withered and starved.

They become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own.

According to the Calvinistic theory, this is desirable. It views:

  • Self-will as a great offence of man
  • Obedience as the best
  • people having no choice

You must do. Whatever is not a duty, is a sin.

Human nature is radically corrupt. There is no redemption for any one until human nature is killed within him.

To one holding this theory of life, crushing out any of the human faculties, capacities, and susceptibilities, is no evil= man needs no capacity, but that of surrendering himself to the will of God= and if he uses any of his faculties for any other purpose but to do that supposed will more effectually, he is better without them.

That is the theory of Calvinism; and it is held, in a mitigated form, by many who do not consider themselves Calvinists; the mitigation consisting in giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will of God; asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify some of their inclinations; of course not in the manner they themselves prefer, but in the way of obedience, that is, in a way prescribed to them by authority; and, therefore, by the necessary conditions of the case, the same for all.

In some such insidious form there is at present a strong tendency to this narrow theory of life, and to the pinched and hidebound type of human character which it patronises. Many persons, no doubt, sincerely think that human beings thus cramped and dwarfed, are as their Maker designed them to be; just as many have thought that trees are a much finer thing when clipped into pollards, or cut out into figures of animals, than as nature made them.

But if it be any part of religion to believe that man was made by a good being, it is more consistent with that faith to believe, that this Being gave all human faculties that they might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and consumed, and that he takes delight in every nearer approach made by his creatures to the ideal conception embodied in them, every increase in any of their capabilities of comprehension, of action, or of enjoyment.

There is a different type of human excellence from the Calvinistic; a conception of humanity as having its nature bestowed on it for other purposes than merely to be abnegated. “Pagan self-assertion” is one of the elements of human worth, as well as “Christian self-denial."[12] There is a Greek ideal of self-development, which the Platonic and Christian ideal of self-government blends with, but does not supersede. It may be better to be a John Knox than an Alcibiades, but it is better to be a Pericles than either; nor would a Pericles, if we had one in these days, be without anything good which belonged to John Knox.

It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and as the works partake the character of those who do them, by the same process human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the race, by making the race infinitely better worth belonging to. In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others. There is a greater fulness of life about his own existence, and when there is more life in the units there is more in the mass which is composed of them.

As much compression as is necessary to prevent the stronger specimens of human nature from encroaching on the rights of others, cannot be dispensed with; but for this there is ample compensation even in the point of view of human development. The means of development which the individual loses by being prevented from gratifying his inclinations to the injury of others, are chiefly obtained at the expense of the development of other people.

Even to himself there is a full equivalent in the better development of the social part of his nature, rendered possible by the restraint put upon the selfish part. To be held to rigid rules of justice for the sake of others, develops the feelings and capacities which have the good of others for their object. But to be restrained in things not affecting their good, by their mere displeasure, develops nothing valuable, except such force of character as may unfold itself in resisting the restraint. If acquiesced in, it dulls and blunts the whole nature. To give any fair-play to the nature of each, it is essential that different persons should be allowed to lead[Pg 119] different lives. In proportion as this latitude has been exercised in any age, has that age been noteworthy to posterity. Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as Individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.


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