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Reading Notebook 1, Mill: Freedom of Expression

by: Anna Kelly

Reading Notebook 1, Mill: Freedom of Expression HSHU 204-01

Marketplace > Catholic University of America > PHIL-Philosophy > HSHU 204-01 > Reading Notebook 1 Mill Freedom of Expression
Anna Kelly
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This is the first assignment due for Philosophy 201. It contains an overview of Mill's "On Liberty" sections 1 and 2 and outline style notes on those sections.
Human Action and Government
Dr. Michael M. Gorman
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This 3 page Class Notes was uploaded by Anna Kelly on Monday January 25, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to HSHU 204-01 at Catholic University of America taught by Dr. Michael M. Gorman in Winter 2016. Since its upload, it has received 11 views. For similar materials see Human Action and Government in PHIL-Philosophy at Catholic University of America.

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Date Created: 01/25/16
Anna Kelly Dr. Michael Gorman Honors Philosophy 102: Human Action and Government 13 January 2015 Reading Journal 1: “On Liberty,” by J.S. Mill, Chapters 1­2 1. Short Summary and Main Themes of the Reading, with Explanation of key claims/concepts: a. Chapter 1: Civil/Social liberty, and the role of society in respecting the liberty of the individual In the first chapter, MIll states that the question of the limitation of society has existed for ages and is the  sole cause of the ongoing struggles between liberty and authority. He lays out the history of the concept  of freedom, and eventually asserts that liberty (in a government and society that is identified with the  people and not separated from them) no longer means freedom against authoritative kings, but freedom  from the majority, not just politically, but socially as well, and claims that society has too much power,  because it can determine, by its general opinion or by law, what is acceptable to do and think. MIll states  that there should be a limit on society’s restriction of the individual, and introduces the idea of liberty  restricted by utilitarianism, saying that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised  over any member of civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others,” and that outside  of this, every man who is mature and capable (and not a child or barbarian), should be permitted to do as  he pleases. According to MIll utility is the greatest ethical guideline and explains why people can be  compelled to do some things but not others for the good of society. According to MIll, freedom of the  individual requires liberty of thought, taste and pursuits, and combination and cannot be altered by  society. b. Chapter 2: Civil/Social liberty, and the role of society in respecting freedom of expression c. MIll opened chapter 2 by emphasizing the importance of freedom in the press, and goes on to qualify this  statement by a two­part argument stating why the press should not be limited (one, that the opinions  suppressed may be true and two, that assuming opinions are true, the value they have if suppressed). He  supported the first part of his argument by stating that people are not infallible and thus may not know  whether what they are suppressing is truly false and must not refuse to listen to it, less they inadvertently  state the absolutism of their own opinions. He states that people are often unaware how close minded they are being; though they admit fallibility, their actions proclaim otherwise. The second part of MIll’s  argument in which he addresses the objection stating that “there is no greater assumption of infallibility in forbidding the propagation of error than in any other thing which is done by public authority on its own  judgement and responsibility.” MIll goes on to say that just because men judge erroneously does not  mean that they aren’t meant to make judgements, and that they must not be prohibited from making  judgements. He also states that arguments should not be limited even in their extreme, because even if we think we are, we cannot be certain that we are correct about the idea, because the usefulness or  uselessness of an opinion is a matter of opinion. People have a right to choose which ideas they  personally believe, but may not choose these ideas for others (which is why governments should not limit  ideas). However, we should keep our minds open to criticism of all opinions, including his own, and thus  may gain wisdom and potentially gain awareness of a better truth than our own. MIll goes on to analyze  whether or not truth should be subjected to persecution, using the example of Christianity and Marcus  Aurelius, and comes to the conclusion that this is a closeminded theory adopted by people who believe  there is no new truth to be discovered, and is ultimately incorrect because it assumes that people are more  eager to embrace truth and fight for truth then they actually are, and that truth can never be suppressed  (which according to historical precedent is not an accurate statement), because we do potentially suppress  truth when we place limitations on people’s freedom of expression. He then launches into the second half  of his argument, and analyzes the consequences of suppressing opinions by examining their worth in  believing if suppressed. He says that people must know the reasons they believe what they believe and  thus must know the objections that others have had to their beliefs in the past. MIll believes (as I do  myself), that there is no value in blind obedience, but that people must know everything that has been said about what they believe before there is any value in their believing it. This allows for diversity of opinion  and allows humanity to gain access to the truth contained in various different ideas promulgated by  people of diverse beliefs, and allows doctrines to make the deepest impression they can on the minds of  their believers, while also permitting free discussion that will allow truth to be out in the open and up for  any person’s choosing.  2. Something I found difficult to grasp: Chapter 2 was confusing to me, not because the concepts were difficult to grasp, but because I had difficulty  following the main points of the argument when they were so greatly extended and thus it was difficult for me to  keep continuity of idea. The second part of chapter two was confusing as well because I didn’t see how MIll was  defending his argument  3. Objections to the Author’s work and what I think the ideas may lead to: I do not have strong objections to any of MIll’s work, and I think that his theories are beneficial for allowing  freedom of the individual in a society, which is something I believe necessary to the formation of a healthy  society. However, I do not necessarily believe that there are many truths, although I believe man has a right to  choose what he believes. I still think that there is a universal truth. 4. Something to discuss in class:  5. It is interesting to analyze MIll’s idea that people can be persuaded and ideas can be discussed in the context of  his own work. He states that some ideas are correct or incorrect, which would seem to be in opposition to his  theory of utility, which allows people to do and think as they please, but because he provides a loophole in that  theory (only stating that people cannot be forced to adhere or reject and idea), he is able to create arguments for  and against ideas without violating his own argument and while respecting the liberty of all to choose.  Having read John Locke’s letter on Religious Toleration for another class before reading this assignment, I was  able to see how some of the ideas MIll had about ideas were derived from this idea of tolerance, specifically his  ideas about religion. I think it would be interesting to look at MIll as a philosopher inspired by earlier authors and  look at his particular theories in the context of time and of previous philosophers’ ideas. I think it would also be  interesting to further analyze MIll’s statements about religion both in the context of utilitarianism (which he did  not much address in the second chapter), and in the context of Locke’s writing about religious freedom. 


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