Liberty and Protection of Society During a Pandemic: Revisiting John Stuart Mill

Perspect Biol Med. 2021;64(2):200-210. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2021.0016.


John Stuart Mill's classic text, On Liberty, maps the scope and limits on individual freedom. His "harm principle"-that liberty can be legitimately restricted by government or society only to prevent harm to others-has had a great influence on contemporary public health ethics. This essay examines Mill's philosophy of liberty as it pertains to public health interventions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Particular applications include examination of face masks, lockdowns, and mandatory vaccination.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Freedom*
  • Humans
  • Masks
  • Public Health / ethics
  • SARS-CoV-2*