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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 137-138 of the 2000 Liberty Fund edition of Frederic William Maitland’s 1875 dissertation at Trinity College, Cambridge, A Historical Sketch of Liberty and Equality:

The great difference between Mill’s Essay on Liberty and earlier writings on the same subject is, that Mill resists the presumption that uniformity of action is desirable.  As long as the influence of Locke was dominant, so long the convenient psychological assumption that men are by nature very much alike, ran through our political philosophy.  Now if the characters of men be alike, then when men are placed in the same circumstances they ought to do the same things; this is the fundamental assumption of all moral philosophers.  If men be very much alike, then uniformity of conduct is desirable; there is a presumption that two men placed in the same external circumstances ought to act in the same way.  This presumption fails if, as modern science teaches us, we are not endowed with equal faculties at starting.  Mill broke away from the eighteenth-century tradition; self-development “in its richest variety” was not an ideal for the followers of Locke, for there was a presumption against variety.  The resistance of this presumption gave new force to the argument that laws will probably be bad.  Law can only deal with externals, it can scarcely concern itself with character and the more reason there is for insisting on the character of the agent as a necessary element in our consideration of the rightness of the action, the less reason is there for thinking external uniformity of action desirable.