Thought for the Day: J.S. Mill – On Liberty.

“The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right…The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” – On Liberty, 1859




A very long time ago, before I came to aviation, I earned a degree in Political Science and Philosophy from St. Leo University. I had a number of really outstanding professors, and the program was very heavy on reading classics. In the decades since, I have continued extensively reading on the topics.


No other man had greater effect on my personal perspective than John Stuart Mill. He was arguably the most brilliant English philosopher who ever lived, and his personal master work, On Liberty is the last word on defining the values and rights of individuals, particularly when they are in conflict with the desires of conformist society. These were not abstract points to Mill. Although he was fluent in Greek and Latin by age 7, and may have had an IQ north of 180, he was denied entrance to Oxford and Cambridge because he would not pledge allegiance to the dogma of the Church of England. This has direct relation to homebuilding today, take a minute to read this link: Thought for the day: Building as an individual.


A required corollary to my belief in individuals is that I must also respect their right to kill themselves. Mill’s quote above states this. Today we have the “nanny state” attempting to make everything “safe” which can’t be done. They always fall back on trying to remove tools and opportunity from the individual, all allegedly for the individual’s good. If you follow Mill’s argument in depth, he explains why this ends up degrading the value of all lives, not just the ones belonging to self destructive people, morons and people yet unacquainted with the finality of death.


My personal oath as an Aircraft Mechanic requires me to take action on behalf of unwitting passengers, not foolish airmen. (read below) As a human being, my code requires me to speak up and alert the person who may be doing something foolish out of ignorance. (read Effective Risk Management – 2,903 words) in the end, when someone has heard me out, and still wants to go ahead, my personal philosophy, patterned on Mill’s,  requires me to not to impede their trek to the cemetery. 


A few weeks ago I wrote this story: How I became a genius in 6 minutes. It is about a builder who tried using an MGA carb from the British car on his Zenith, destroying the engine on the first climb out. Today came word that the same guy is back on the Zenith builders sight saying he is going to try essentially the same experiment again, but he is expecting a different result. I am at peace with the eventual outcome, I only ask that when we hear of it, a friendly builder post a link to this story. Tonight before I sleep I will take my copies of On Liberty and Origin of the Species off the shelf and thumb through their dog eared pages, and Consider how Mill and Darwin, men who lived and passed before the Wright brothers flew, understood so much about the animals that would later inhabit the world of flight. -ww.





I earned my A&P license from Embry-Riddle in 1991. It was in an era when the department was run by men who were former military, who had come of age in WWII,  Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam. They took aviation very seriously, they all had seen its potential costs. They were tough.  I am biased, but I do think the program was without peer.  At the end of training, a handful of select students, I among them, elected to take a solemn oath in a private ceremony  to swear our unwavering allegiance to aviation safety.


We did not swear to protect our employers, nor to defend the FAA or their rules, nor did we swear to defend our friends, careers or egos. We didn’t even take an oath to protect pilots. The only people we were taking an oath to protect was unwitting passengers who would fly in planes, people who had supreme trust and the belief that their fellow man, an aviation professional, was trustworthy with their very life.  The critical element of the oath is that we might be the passengers last line of defense, and if it was so, we were to “forsake every other consideration to protect them.”

– From the story Pietenpol Weight and Balance project


About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at and in more than 50 magazine articles.

One Response to Thought for the Day: J.S. Mill – On Liberty.

  1. robsley says:

    Isn’t the definition of insanity, something like, Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. When I make some part for my airplane and it doesn’t quit come out right I don’t make, form, bend or weld it the same way I make a change based on the experience I have gained. I learned something!

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