Principle, Pragmatism, and Piecework in On Liberty

Utilitas:1-8 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

In a well-known passage in chapter V of On Liberty, J. S. Mill notes that while economic competition is generally socially beneficial and should be permitted, this “Free Trade” doctrine does not follow from the liberty or harm principle because “trade is a social act.” In a largely overlooked passage in chapter IV of the same essay, however, Mill contends that for society to coercively prohibit the practice of piecework – paying workers by the unit rather than by the hour or day – does violate this principle. In this short note, I demonstrate that Mill's reasoning in these two passages is contradictory.

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