Dr. Elizabeth Sperry
CTI 100 EB
September 13th, 2018
Mill Analysis of Drunkenness
Alcoholism has the ability to alter the mind and delay the thinking process of a drunken individual. As a result or consequence of this action, it will demoralize and impair society. In John Stuart Mill’s essay, On Liberty, he discusses topics like conformity, individuality, and several other topics critical in the human development process.
The harm principle is the primary connection between John Stuart Mill’s analysis on drunkenness and other major concepts within On Liberty. The harm principle defines that people have the freedom to act however they desire, unless their actions distress someone else. But, gray area is touched when you involve drunken individuals. What are the limits, and what category do they fit under and when the harm principle is necessary. “The making himself drunk, in a person whom drunkenness excites to do harm to others, is a crime against others”(167). As Mill explains, if an intoxicated person were to cause harm to someone in ways being physical or mental, it would be a crime. Not only will it weaken the person, it could cause their development to be delayed.
John Stuart Mill would discriminate against alcoholism in public places, because it slows down the thinking process of man. When drunk, your mental processing is not as quick as if you were sober, making it harder to discuss topics and opinions. If you can’t test your views and support your beliefs, you are hurting society. Whether your view is wrong or right, it could create discussion and help someone else either gain more knowledge about a certain topic, or you could express your thoughts and alter someone else’s point of view.
John Stuart Mill also compares drunks to that of children and barbarians. “If gambling, or drunkenness, or incontinence, or idleness, or uncleanliness are as injurious to happiness, and as great a hindrance to improvement, as many or most of the acts prohibited by law, why (it may be asked) should not law, so far as is consistent with practicability and social convenience, endeavour to repress these also”(147). This text is explaining that drunks ultimately have no self control, and with no self control you can not reason properly. And, like children, they can not reason properly because they are not fully developed.
Mill does not explicitly state that all drunks are bad and harmful. In chapter four he states, “Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example, and ought to be compelled to control himself for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead”(147). In conclusion, only if the intoxicated person doesn’t pester the public and cause uproars in their drunken state is okay and should not be prohibited. Mill is also a firm believer in utilitarianism, which means he is a supporter of doing whatever you want that grants you happiness. Mill will also question whether we should be free to act as long as it doesn’t disturb the the happiness and well-being of others. But, if a person of higher power is drunk on duty or while working it is not acceptable, as Mill discusses in chapter four, “No person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty and placed in that of morality”(149).
Mill states, “A person who had once been convicted of any act of violence to others under the influence of drink should be placed under a special legal restriction, personal to himself”(167). As explained, someone who is under the influence of alcohol and is convicted of a brutal act or practice should be under legal restriction. Even in present day this statement is true; If you are caught being violent or irresponsible while intoxicated, you will have punishable consequences. And with every time punished for this practice, the punishment becomes more severe.
Putting a tax on alcohol is another topic John Mill brings up. “It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what commodities the consumer can best spare; and a fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively injurious”(171). If there was a tax, it would ultimately control what people can have. This could adversely affect someone. Alcohol could possibly be the key to someone’s happiness.
Mill also discusses in his work how we should still be accepting of the drunks . “They may be to us an object of pity, perhaps dislike, but not of anger or resentment; we shall not treat him like an enemy of society; the worst we think ourselves justified in doing is leaving him to himself, if we do not interfere benevolently by showing interest or concern for him”(146). We should accept their flaws, and not think of them as an enemy. Another example given on page 146 was, “It makes a vast difference both in our feelings and in our conduct towards him whether he displeases us in things in which we think we have the right to control him or in things in which we know that we have not”. As explained, we should not tell an alcoholic what they can and cannot do. If they want to drink, we should be accepting since that is their choice.
In the article, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill discusses several instances where drunkenness can harm and impair society when not responsible. Even today many statement can be used in modern society. As a writer in 1873, John Mill had a proficient grasp on human thought process and habit in society. Not only did he understand individual happiness and desires, he understood the limits and expectation society holds for others.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Edited by Elizabeth Rapaport, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978.