Explain, Using Your Own Examples, John Stuart Mill's Case for Freedom of Expression.

Topics: John Stuart Mill, Freedom of speech, On Liberty Pages: 8 (2607 words) Published: December 16, 2011
a) Explain, using your own examples, John Stuart Mill's case for freedom of expression.

John Stuart Mill was a Utilitarian, believing that all ethical questions should be decided by applying the Principle of Utility. This principle states that the morally correct action in any situation is that which will increase happiness for the greatest number of people. Actions are right in proportion that they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. From Warburton, N. (2007, 4th edn ), Arguments for Freedom, The Open University p 61. Mill's use of the word happiness differs from the everyday usage, he includes the intellectual higher pleasures of thought and prioritises them over the lower pleasures of the senses. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. Ibid., p 62.

This statement also demonstrates the great value which Mill places on the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Though not stated explicitly, his view that seeking truth is fundamental to“the permanent interests of man as a progressive being”(Ibid., p 62) is central to his defence of freedom of speech. Mill expands on this later explaining that freedom of speech is a vital condition in developing a thinking culture. ...in a general atmosphere of mental slavery… there never has been, nor ever will be, in that atmosphere an intellectually active people. Ibid., p 87.

Mill believed that allowing a wide range of negative freedoms would increase general happiness. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest. Ibid., p 63.

Working from this belief Mill goes on to state that the only instance in which an authority can be justified in removing negative freedoms from an individual, is when it is deemed that their actions will harm others. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. Ibid., p 57.

Consistently underpinning Mill's arguments for the preservation of negative liberties are his Utilitarian views. Mill applies the harm principle both to demonstrate the case for freedom of speech and to highlight instances in which it should be suppressed.

Mill argues that fallibility is an innate aspect of human nature. He gives the example of opinions widely held in one age only to be discounted in the next. ...every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd;and it is as certain that many opinions now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many once general are rejected by the present. Ibid., p 83.

Mill states that to suppress another's opinion is to assume ones own infallibility; humans are incapable of absolute certainty, thus he deducts that no human has the authority to suppress the opinion of another. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. Ibid., p 82.

Mill explains that our opinions are formed from experience and that had our experiences been different we would have developed different opinions. ...it never troubles him that... the same causes which make him a churchman in London would have made him a Buddhist or Confucian in Peking. Ibid., p 83

I am the chief cartographer of the Ordnance survey, somewhere along the way of my heady rise to power I have become a fervent disbeliever in the town of Bracknell, Berkshire. Tomorrow I plan to erase any trace of the town from the latest print run of maps, no matter the objections of the fifty thousand or so people who claim to live there. After all, I am...
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