Archive for the ‘obedience’ Category

John Stuart Mill spent much of “The Subjection of Women” discussing the issue of marriage and its flaws. Throughout his work he is well versed and seems to consider himself an informed and knowledgeable writer on this topic. In present times, many of the issues Mill raises against marriage have already been fixed. Women are taking less subordinate and even more dominant roles in partnerships, women have the right to file for divorce, and also have legal rights to their children. What would Mill’s thoughts be on a more modernized version of this topic, gay marriage? Mill has many reasons for opposing the institution of marriage and if these causes for opposition are obliterated, it is likely that Mill will support marriage. I argue that Mill would support gay marriage as it rids of many of his causes for opposing marriage.


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“All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual servitude…not a forced slave but a willing one” (Mill, 659).

Mill describes the slave and master relationship as one normally based on “fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears” (659). To him, women are enslaved––but not because of fear. Instead, Mill says they are brought up from an early age to be submissive and to live for others. Furthermore, he says women are supposed to have “no life but in their affections” (659). In this section, Mill analyzes a woman’s part in society, but is conflicted over a woman’s will to rebel from their submissive role.

In assessing the uniqueness of the relationship between women and men, he is very accurate. Men traditionally during his time (late 1800s) expected women to live only to serve the family in the home. There were few job opportunities, and most laws bound women to their husbands until death. Perhaps not all women feared their husbands, but the culture brought them up to be submissive.

As Mill says, it wasn’t enough for women to simply obey their husbands, it was expected that they happily serve him and the rest of the family. But was everything really “put in practice to enslave their minds?” We now know that many women writers and artists existed and practiced during this time, but were not necessarily allowed to pursue or publish their work. Mill’s wife, Harriet Taylor, spent a great deal of time editing her husbands books and contributing to many of his ideas. However, she was never given credit for assisting him until recently. It is clear there were women thinkers in that period, but it was not proper for a woman to work outside the home. Maybe Mill was right about our society trying to enslave women’s minds, but he was definitely conflicted over whether women could indeed create ideas of their own.

On one hand, he criticizes others for assuming women “make no complaint” and are “consenting parties” (658). Mill seems to believe that women have been writing and fighting for their own rights since the beginning of time, and applauds the women who have petitioned Parliament for admission to the Parliamentary Suffrage. He also writes that the women’s suffrage movement is growing in popularity. In addition, Mill makes it clear that “no enslaved class ever asked for liberty all at once,” (659) appearing to give hope to the women’s situation.

The next section, however, conflicts directly with his previous claims that women are fighting for their liberty. Mill says the women’s suffrage movement is intensifying and women are demanding admission to various occupations, but he then writes that it is still highly unlikely for women to be rebellious. How is this possible? Even if they are brought up to be submissive, women are also naturally human and question their role in society. Even before Mill wrote The Subjection of Women, the fight for women’s rights carried on.

Nevertheless, he was right about women’s proper place in society in that time period. Men wanted their wives to handle the family’s private life and not associate with anyone outside the home. Regarding his points about a woman’s will to rebel, I tend to agree with his first opinion that woman have always rebelled from their role in society. To this day, workplaces in American are not equal and women are fighting for equal rights. Men earn higher on average than women, and it is still difficult for women to be admitted to certain professions. I suppose Mill wouldn’t be surprised that our society is still not completely equal.

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Mill was focused on the subjection of females, and with the modern world we live in I can’t help but think to some extent there is subjection in the other direction thanks to what society considers normal. Women have made great strides in being able to do jobs which were once considered men only, but is it possible that now men face the same wall? I think that it is.

From my observation, women are applauded for going into the “tough” fields. Things like owning a business, politics, being doctors. They are encouraged to push themselves as far as they can into these fields. However men are sometimes made fun of, if they want to go into a more “soft” field, such as social work or elementary education. Both of these fields are heavily dominated by women, and it is “socially acceptable” that they are in these fields. A man who wishes to go into Social Work can be teased about being feminine. A man who wants to go into early childhood education gets a two-faced response. On one hand they are encouraged, we need more male influence for young ages, but on the other, people look at them funny, and wonder why exactly a man wants to work with young children. Yes, working with young children is generally a more female role, but does that mean that a man can’t do it just as well? I think not. One young man I went to high school with is currently working with kindergartners. He is great with them. He gets teased because he teaches at our female dominated elementary school, and he handles it well.

I am not saying that men are not allowed to do these things. But isn’t it subjective to say that men can’t teach kids? Or can’t handle the emotional ups and downs of social work?

Mill was calling for a change in the position of women in society. He encouraged the equality that really we get to enjoy today. We get a full education, we can do any job we like. So I think that we should stop looking funny at the guy who says he wants to work in a traditionally feminine job. He’s got some guts to go out there and try to do something that he’s probably very good at.

Maybe it’s time for us to take the standards to a new level. We got on the topic in discussion of role reversal. And while yes, I think it is difficult for most of us to imagine men keeping house and raising the kids, what is to say they can’t?

Some women aren’t cut out to be stay-at-home moms. It seems, in our world of fairness and equality that men should be allowed to be stay-at-home dads if it works for their family.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but today’s discussion really had me thinking. Society says that men shouldn’t be stay-at home dads. Societal norms have created this great way of causing subjection between men and women even if we consider ourselves equal.

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“Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

– On Liberty, J.S. Mill, W p.594

In reading J.S. Mill, the idea of religious freedom has been in the minds of many of we students, both as we study his writings and in our discussion sections. Much of what Mill argues for is the ability for the individual to argue in opposition to a state’s ideals. He also warns against the “tyranny of the majority”, or allowing the majority opinion to force its ideals and beliefs on the dissenters. In modern-day America, while our country is not technically a theocracy, many nevertheless argue that our laws can and should be based upon Christian ideals, as our country’s founders are thought to have been primarily Christian (and thus the country was founded on Christian ideals), and as the majority of the citizens consider themselves Christian. Does it not follow, then, that “majority rules”?

One of the most common arguments for Christian ideals being implemented in our country’s laws is the idea that our country was founded upon Christian beliefs. The evidence drawn to support this argument is most frequently the idea that most of the founders were Christians, and that the writings of the founders, and our country’s founding documents, often reference God. However, nowhere in our country’s founding documents is it stated that the United States is a Christian nation, that it is a theocracy, or that laws should continue to be made based on Christian principles. Nevertheless, even if the country had been founded on Christian ideals, according to Mill this would still be wrong: A country’s leaders coercing its citizens into abiding by certain religious ideals simply because of its having the power to do so would be a restriction of liberty, and thus in direct opposition with both Mill’s ideals and that oft-quoted unalienable rights of man in the Declaration of Independence: those of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. While one could argue this idea for days, let us put it aside in favor of a more relevant discussion to Mill: That of whether the Christian majority makes a Christian nation.

It is frequently argued that the fact that the majority of Americans are Christians with the power to vote thus makes America a Christian nation – perhaps not officially, but at least in practice. By that logic, if the majority vote for a law that supports Christian ideals (such as Proposition 8 in California, banning gay marriage in that state), it is permissible for that law to exist based on its simply having majority support, regardless of whether the law is of a secular nature, or “right”. But is this logical, and is it fair? According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, as conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, some 77% of Americans consider themselves or can be considered to be Christian. In fact, the majority of those reading this will probably be Christian as well. But if our nation is not a Christian nation, is it nevertheless allowable for the Christian ideals of the voting majority to create and uphold laws that abide by Christian morality and ideals?

If we are allowed to create and pass laws based on our own personal beliefs, and we are the majority, is this simply an example of democracy in action, or is this, as Mill says, “a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression”? Mill also says that, “Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs to be protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them”. If this “protection” against the tyranny of the majority is necessary, what lawmakers have the right to do so, and how can they rightfully go against the majority to protect the minorities being oppressed in a democracy such as ours, in which the very founding principle of government is that the people have the power?

Your own personal religious beliefs on which laws should and should not be passed aside, what do you think? Is it right that the majority should be allowed to impose its morals and ideals upon the nation as a whole in a democracy such as ours, or is this, as Mill says, just another form of tyranny and political oppression? And how, if you agree with the latter, can lawmakers logically and morally decide which laws are oppressive to the dissenting minority?



Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009). “AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY (ARIS) 2008” (PDF). Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College. http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf.

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At my current residence, my landlord issued a warning that he would fine $20 to every apartment in our complex for cleaning up cigarette butts on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to my apartment complex. Cigarette butts are a common thing to find on any sidewalk in a city, but I can understand a landlord wishing to keep its property litter-free. Yet, the problem I have with this possible fine is I do not smoke; therefore, I have nothing to do with cigarette butts being discarded onto the sidewalk. So there are two possible actions I can take if this fine is imposed: I could take the Hobbesian route and pay the fine because it is unjust to go against the sovereign (in this case, the landlord) or I could take Locke’s advice by opposing the sovereign and an unjust statute.

According to Hobbes, he would say I would have to pay this clean-up fine, regardless of how responsible I am for it. In my situation, I have entered a social contract with my landlord in the form of a residential lease. The only section of my lease that remotely justifies the clean-up fine is, “Tenants also shall maintain the Premises in a neat and orderly manner.” So even if my lease does not say that my landlord has a right to fine me, he is still in the right according to Hobbes because it was I who signed a contract putting the landlord into a position of power, “there can happen no breach of covenant on the part of the sovereign,” (Hobbes 176). Hobbes is saying that the sovereign is unable to break a contract because only the people who placed the sovereign into power are in a position to break a contract.  In addition, Hobbes would say that I would have no right to object from paying the $20 because, “being thereby bound by covenant, to own the actions, and judgments of one, cannot lawfully make a new covenant, amongst themselves,” (Hobbes 175-176). This means that it would be unjust for me to approach the landlord and claim myself to be exempt from the fine no matter how innocent I am. In a Hobbesian setting, the only solution would to be to keep my original covenant and pay the fine.

On the other hand, Locke claims that I should not pay the clean-up fine. By Locke’s terms, the landlord in my situation is using arbitrary power, or governing without settled laws (Locke 323) because there is no writing in my lease that claims that the landlord has a right to charge every apartment a fine for the clean-up of a public space. As Locke claims, “the ruling power ought to govern by declared and received laws, and not by extemporary dictates and undetermined resolutions,” (Locke 324). Consequently, my landlord is no position to charge me $20 because the landlord should only take actions outlined in our contract. In addition, Locke would also suggest that it would be right for me to stand up against the landlord and to not pay the $20. Locke says that people have a right to rebel if an authority changes the laws, and the people have a right to rebel, “when either the legislative is changed, or the legislators act contrary to the end for which they were constituted, those who are guilty are guilty of rebellion,” (Locke 347). Not only is it my right to rebel the fine, but Locke is saying that it is fault of the landlord for me to rebel in the first place by creating this fine.

Both Hobbes and Locke both have several convincing points in their arguments that could dictate my action if this $20 fine of cleaning up cigarette butts is charged upon me. Which side would I choose in this situation? Locke’s side would be an easy choice because not only would it keep me $20 richer, but mostly because the power to fine for cleaning public space is not outlined in our contract. Yet, Hobbes does make a point that I agreed to put the landlord in a position of power over me. Regardless, this situation shows how the different ideals of Locke and Hobbes can be implemented at many levels of modern society.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008. 116-277.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008. 285-353.

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The Sovereign or the People

One of the more important, and basic concepts up for debate is whether the governing body controls the state, or the people being governed. One could assume that the government controls the people who consent to give it power, when that action of consent can also be easily interpreted as a grant of permission. Machiavelli argues that the power of the ruler is absolute. This meshes well with Hobbes’ view that the people have no right to condemn a sovereign’s actions, but Hobbes states that the people willfully give the sovereign power, a point that Machiavelli never suggests. Locke presents the closest argument for a rule of the people, but does so in an odd manner. He takes the stand that the people consent to be governed by a body, and therefore have the right to revolt if that ruling entity betrays their trust. As Robert Wolff states in In Defense of Anarchism, “Authority is the right to command, and correlatively, the right to be obeyed” (Wolff pg 4).  People must give up their over their lives in order to be governed, and in doing so, grant the government permission to dictate their rights.
Locke suggests that the ruling body follows a contract with the people, to carry out the legislative process of the government. He states that:
“…so that he, who takes away the freedom, or hinders the acting of the legislative in its due seasons, in effect takes away the legislative, and puts an end to the government” (Locke pg 344).
The government is expected to carry out the legislative process of the state in accordance with the desires and freedoms of the people being ruled. The people, therefore, have given their rights, in respect to the legislative process of the state, over to another body. They have given up a portion of their respective freedoms for having the security of the state. Locke views this as a willful grant of rights, which would imply that the action can also be rescinded, as in the case of Maclom X where he rejects his American citizenship and consent to be governed. This gives the people the ability to check or oppose a governments power, meaning the government has to stay in favor of the people in order to exist.
It is important to make the distinction that there is a difference of claiming authority and being granted authority. Locke suggests that authority is granted, as is shown above, along with Malcom X. Claiming authority implies a use of force, and I believe that refers to the subjugation of another’s rights through, if need be, violent means. The granting of authority seems to relate more to what Locke suggests, where the people grant, through expressed consent, their rights to the government.
If the government seizes the right of authority, and holds it without expressed consent, then it is parallel to forced obedience, an oppression of the rights of the governed. In some cases, the sovereign may not abuse their powers, but the rights of the people were not granted, but taken forcibly, an act of oppression that Locke would consider grounds for a state of war.
For a legitimate government to be established, it must have the expressed consent of the people governed. The inhabitants of that commonwealth or state must agree to grant a portion of their freedoms over to the government, and hold that government responsible. This means that the people, not the ruling body, are for all intents and purposes, the holders of authority.


Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. London, England. University of
California Press. 1998. (pg 4).

Locke, John.  E.D. Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from
Machiavelli to Nietzsche,  Second Treatise of Government: Bk. II
Indiana. Hackett. 2008. (pg 344).

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Socrates clearly denies that he is guilty of the charges brought against him, so why does he turn down Crito’s proposal for escape?  In The Apology, Socrates asserts, “hardly anything of what [my accusers] said was true” (17b).  Socrates states his innocence and then the Athenian court pronounces him guilty, so it would appear by substitution that Socrates would find the Athenian courts flawed.  Courts are theoretically supposed to search for truth, and since Socrates sees himself as innocent, Socrates would see the courts as just if they acquitted him, but as unjust if they found him guilty.  Socrates’ decision not to flee seems somewhat contradictory.  For if he finds the courts’ decision wrong, and therefore unjust, by following the order of the court, he is going along with an unjust institution.  In The Apology, Socrates says, “…death is something I couldn’t care less about, but that my whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious” (32d).  As someone who portrays himself as only concerned with the greater justice of Athens, it seems that going into exile as Crito suggests would in fact be the just thing to do.  Does acting in accordance with a flawed and, as Socrates would suggest, an unjust judicial system by substitution make one unjust? 

            Socrates entire argument for not following Crito’s plan for exile centers around the desire to be “just” and “fair.”  But I would argue, that by Socrates’ very definition of justice, obeying an unjust institution would in turn make one unjust.  Socrates’ main argument for accepting death is that by having lived in Athens he has accepted to live by the laws and rules of the city, that by staying in the city he has implicitly consented to follow their laws.  However, in addressing Crito, Socrates also asks “One should value the good opinions, and not the bad ones…the good opinions are those of wise men, the bad ones those of foolish men?” (46b).  In response to this point, I would argue that this actually supports the idea of leaving Athens and the death sentence behind.  The majority opinion was the opinion that found him guilty, the very majority that supports the laws of Athens.  And since Socrates feels that he is innocent, wouldn’t the “good opinions of the wise men” belong to those who believed his innocence?  Socrates acknowledges that one cannot follow the “bad [opinions] of foolish men,” but then why does he deem it okay to follow the Athenian laws of men who he thinks are foolish?  And if he were to follow those who had these “good opinions” wouldn’t he find the courts unjust and therefore, by his own standard of justice, feel compelled to disobey? 

            Socrates’ reason for staying in Athens to be killed is unclear to me.  His argument for staying is contradicted by his assertions earlier in the apology and also even throughout his conversation with Crito.  I think Socrates stayed to prove a point, to die for his cause.  In The Apology he says, “…for if you kill me you will not easily find another like me” (30e).  Socrates sees himself as a martyr for philosophers and therefore subjects himself to a punishment he sees as unjust.  But, by accepting this “unjust” punishment, I would argue that he not only weakened his previous arguments of innocence but also his skills as a philosopher.  

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