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Comparing Liberty Definition According To John Stewart Mill And Thomas Aquinas

By Gina Simmons

Generally, liberty entails a philosophical concept that identifies situations under which a person is considered to have the right to act in accordance with his or her own will. It is normally classified as positive or negative where negative liberty entails the absence of constraints or barriers and the positive one entails actions that provide an individual with a chance to take control of his life and realize his potentials (Carter, 2007). Negative liberty is confined to issues concerning an individual while positive liberty on the other hand encompasses issues concerning the society or a collective of individuals. From a political perspective, liberty is considered as the restoration or provision of economic and social freedom to the people. Since time immemorial, Liberty has taken different definitions as most individuals take it to mean provision of rights aimed at protecting the poor and weak in the society (Carter, 2007).
Research problem
People vary in terms of their perception thus have different definitions or descriptions of liberty. The theory of liberty by John Mill is completely different from that in Aquinas thereby portraying the variation in the perception of liberty by individuals. This research paper focuses on evaluating and explaining the theory of liberty by John Mill and providing a comparison between his liberty descriptions relative to that in Aquinas.
Literature review
In accordance with Mill (1985), liberty is classified into two categories which are characterized by action and coercion. With respect to action, liberty takes the definition that entails provision of the freedom to act while on coercion it encompasses prevention of oppression (Mill, 1985). Mill attempts to bring into focus the nature coupled with limitations of the power exercised by the society with respect to an individual. An argument that Mill devises and primarily uses is the harm principle. Through the harm principle, Mill provides insight on his notion of mutual liberty and that of tyranny. Regarding this principle, a person is equipped with the right to act on his own will provided the actions performed are not harmful to the society (Mill, 1985).
Considering Mill’s (1985) perspective, the society or government has no right to interfere with the actions of an individual if they are self regarding. However, the society can intervene and prevent people from continually harming themselves or destroying their properties. Since people do not live in isolation, harming oneself or ones property causes damages in the society. This type of liberty is essential since it takes the interest of the society and individual at heart. It ensures that individuals are provided with adequate freedom to do as they please thus not involved in activities such as slavery (Mill, 1985).
The works and thoughts of Thomas Aquinas focus on reconciling religion with reason. Aquinas insists that an individual’s senses represent their soul’s feelings and that the reason need to be presented with adequate facts. From Aquinas perception natural law is basically the rational participation of an individual in eternal laws made by God. Thomas Aquinas focused primarily on liberty of autonomous people in conducting their affairs via rational persuasion and civil conversation (Aquinas, 2002).
In his definition, Aquinas placed much value on practical order of the society through which every person is provided control over his own liberty by cultivating virtues and habits. Despite Aquinas not forming a notion on natural rights, in accordance with his liberty perception all men are equal in spite of their variation in capabilities, talents, and callings. The society from Aquinas’ theory entails the mutual exchange of commodities and ideas where each person contributes for the sake of provision of good life (Aquinas, 2002).
From Aquinas’ (2002) liberty definition, the government has limited rights over an individual thus cannot function beyond certain demarcated points. Unlike Mill’s liberty definition, Aquinas’ (2002) definition posits that the role of the government is bound by human nature laws that are derived from God, the Creator of man. To avoid inconsistency with the human nature, Aquinas insists that positive laws need to be just and emanated from principles of natural law. According to Aquinas (2002), human laws should be constructed to ensure that the society is orderly. Unlike Aquinas liberty definition that focuses on religion, Mill’s does not entail religion.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Simmons, Gina "Comparing Liberty Definition According To John Stewart Mill And Thomas Aquinas." Comparing Liberty Definition According To John Stewart Mill And Thomas Aquinas. 27 Jun. 2010. 27 May 2015 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Simmons, G (2010, June 27). Comparing Liberty Definition According To John Stewart Mill And Thomas Aquinas. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Simmons, Gina "Comparing Liberty Definition According To John Stewart Mill And Thomas Aquinas"

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