Mill on patterns of human existence

“… it is important to give the freest scope possible to uncustomary things, in order that it may in time appear which of these are fit to be converted into customs. But independence of action, and disregard of custom are not solely deserving of encouragement for the chance they afford that better modes of action, and customs more worthy of general adoption, may be struck out; nor is it only persons of decided mental superiority who have a just claim to carry on their lives in their own way. There is no reason that all human existences should be constructed on some one, or some small number of patterns. If a person possesses any tolerable amount of common sense and experience, his own mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because it is the best in itself, but because it is his own mode. Human beings are not like sheep; and even sheep are not undistinguishably alike.”
—J. S. Mill, On Liberty

3 thoughts on “Mill on patterns of human existence”

  1. That’s an excellent passage. I remember that my first reaction to reading “The Subjection of Women” (“On Liberty” has been perpetually on my “to read when I have some of that mythical stuff called free time” list) was to be somewhat astonished by the extent of elegant passages like the one you quoted, and also by the extent to which the views he sets out might still be considered radical today.


    1. Great, isn’t it? I’m also lacking some of that mystical stuff… but more Mill definitely on the reading list.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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