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Mill, because of his rationalism, has an extravagant confidence in education as a meliorative force, including it with population control as one of two major remedies for existing social ills. Yet he repudiates the idea that the state should provide instruction. Here he apparently makes a concession to parents who for many reasons, usually religious, hold diverse views on the substance of education and the values it should inculcate. In any case, however, he has his own pronounced reason for rejecting state instruction. He fears it as a ready instrument for moulding citizens to be exactly alike, thus shattering his ambition for the proper cultivation of individuality. A common mould would be created for the convenience and advantage of the dominant power, whether an absolute monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or a majority in a democracy. “An education established and controlled by the State,” he writes, “should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence” (302). To this rule he makes one exception: if the society is so backward and impoverished that citizens cannot afford a proper education, then the government must provide it.

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It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine to suppose that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human beings have no business with each other’s conduct in life, and that they should not concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being of one another, unless their own interest is involved. Instead of any diminution, there is need of a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the good of others. But disinterested benevolence can find other instruments to persuade people to their good, than whips and scourges, either of the literal or the metaphorical sort. I am the last person to undervalue the self-regarding virtues; they are only second in importance, if even second, to the social. It is equally the business of education to cultivate both. But even education works by conviction and persuasion as well as by compulsion, and it is by the former only that, when the period of education is past, the self-regarding virtues should be inculcated. Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter. They should be for ever stimulating each other to increased exercise of their higher faculties, and increased direction of their feelings and aims towards wise instead of foolish, elevating instead of degrading, objects and contemplations. But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being; the interest which any other person, except in cases of strong personal attachment, can have in it, is trifling, compared with that which he himself has; the interest which society has in him individually (except as to his conduct to others) is fractional, and altogether indirect; while, with respect to his own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else. The interference of society to overrule his judgment and purposes in what only regards himself, must be grounded on general presumptions; which may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases, by persons no better acquainted with the circumstances of such cases than those are who look at them merely from without. In this department, therefore, of human affairs. Individuality has its proper field of action. In the conduct of human beings towards one another, it is necessary that general rules should for the most part be observed, in order that people may know what they have to expect; but in each person’s own concerns, his individual spontaneity is entitled to free exercise. Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by others; but he himself is the final judge. All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.


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Two years after Mill founded the Utilitarian Society, Bentham and a few friends launched the as an official organ for utilitarian ideas. In its first four years (1824-28) Mill, despite his youth, was a frequent contributor on a wide range of themes, which he treated in the spirit of utilitarian orthodoxy. He criticized the follies of aristocratic rule in Britain and Ireland, the illusions of chivalry formerly associated with aristocracy, the vested interests of great landowners in corn and game laws, and the ills of a faulty journalism. He strove to liberate the English press from the trammels of an abused and arbitrary law of libel and the burden of press duties. Mill like his father and other contemporary Radicals saw in the freedom of the press the essential instrument for mobilizing opinion, breaking down resistance to reform, and creating that degree of popular discontent which would compel the aristocratic government to make substantial concessions. He was naturally inspired by his father’s famous essay on “Liberty of the Press,” first published in 1821 as a supplement to the He accepted his parent’s uncompromising belief that no special laws should exist to hamper the freedom of newspapers to print facts and advance opinions to protect the people against the tyranny of a government.