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PAR 101

by: Joseph Notetaker
Joseph Notetaker

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Philosophy Notes week 1
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This 7 page Class Notes was uploaded by Joseph Notetaker on Thursday March 31, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to at University of North Carolina - Wilmington taught by in Fall 2015. Since its upload, it has received 30 views.


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Date Created: 03/31/16
Joseph Sharp PAR 101-003 11/8/2015 Absolute Freedom of Speech in a Civil Society John Stuart Mill, an influential nineteenth century English philosopher, wrote an argument for the freedom of speech in his book On Liberty. John Locke, another English philosopher before John Stuart Mill’s time, wrote a book The Second Treatise of Government which outlines the basic idea of western government. John Locke never explicitly addresses his opinion on the freedom of speech. This paper will explain Mill’s argument for free speech and argue for whether John Locke would agree or disagree with Mill’s opinion on free speech. Mill’s book On Liberty shows that Mill believes it is never justified to silence any opinion unless the opinion directly constitutes harmful action. Whether individuals or government are doing the silencing. In Mill’s words “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”[Mill, p.14] Mill’s justification for his position of free speech is that silencing any opinion harms humanity. The only way people learn is through experience and discussion. When someone has a conceived notion about the world they would be a fool not to act based on that notion. That is until experience or discussion persuades them of a different notion of the truth. The limiting of personal expression disrupts this since silencing someone does not allow them to learn and understand. Instead they are arbitrarily told not to follow their own whim, not allowing them to understand why that whim may be harmful. This is harmful to the furthering of humanity and therefore humanity itself, since it impedes understanding. An opinion that someone has can either be accurate/true or it can be inaccurate/false. If an accurate opinion is being suppressed then the furthering of understanding and truthfulness it would provide would therefore be suppressed, causing all the benefit that the opinion/idea to not influence humanity. If the opinion being suppressed is inaccurate and the people suppressing the argument have a more accurate idea of the opinion suppressing the opinion is still harmful. This is because the people suppressing the false opinion should be able to refute the false opinion and defend their accurate opinion. This gives more weight and benefit to the truth. If the truth is never challenged it becomes a dead dogma and loses the value and benefit it has to society. Therefore the suppression of a false opinion would be harmful to societies as truths already established would never be challenged and will lose their benefit. Anyone suppressing an opinion must believe their understanding of the opinion is more truthful then the one that they’re suppressing. This means that the person suppressing the opinion assumes they’re infallible, but it is impossible for someone to be infallible. The suppressing of opinion can cause new truths and the progress of humanity to be denied. An objection to Mill’s argument is a suppressor can say they are not assuming they are infallible but that they are acting on best judgment. Mill’s response to this is being able to answer objections and refute contrary opinion is best judgement and completely acceptable. It is only the action of attempting to silence an opinion or dissent to an opinion is never justified. What Mill is saying is that someone should defend their own opinion to the fullest, but should never make any action to stop the voicing of contradicting views and opinions. Another objection to Mill’s argument is that through silencing an opinion the silencer is not assuming their infallibility, but protecting beliefs that are beneficial to society. This argument is problematic because the person attempting to silence the opinion is shifting their belief of infallibility from the opinion to what is best for society. This argument assumes that truth and benefit of humanity are separate when the seeking of truth should be the goal of humanity. It also still makes the assumption of someone being infallible, and infallible on what is best for society which is a dangerous assumption to make, and the most inhumane actions have come from this assumption. For example all genocides are based on this assumption. John Locke would agree with free speech but not to the full extent of Mill’s definition. John Locke would believe that silencing certain expressions would be necessary to maintain a civil society. An idea John Locke supports is that upon entering a civil society an individual submits to the majority. They give up their natural rights upon entering a civil society. People would do this as a choice and because they believe a civil society would better protect their lives, liberty, and estate better than natural law. John Locke defines natural law as the state where no person has power over others, and are free to do as they please. Mill’s idea of freedom of speech aligns with Locke’s definition of natural law. Natural law is the instinctual law where no person has power over another, and everyone can do what they please, and all punishment fits the crime. John Locke believes that natural law has to be given up to enter a civil society. Therefore the right for a person to act on their whim, and absolute freedom of expression is also given up. Civil society accomplishes this through establishing a settled known law, a known and indifferent judge, and the power to back and support the system. The civil society is built from representing the majority of the people and its one aim is to promote peace, safety, and public good. Therefore, going back to Mill’s quote, if the majority believed in an opinion, and also believed that contrary opinions could harm life, liberty and estate of the majority, the government and the people of the society would have the right to silence that opinion. This means that the government has the authority to decide what is the most beneficial to society. This is because the laws and government officials should represent the majority of the people. And if it is deemed necessary to silence expression of what the majority, and therefore the government, thinks is harmful then laws should be set in place to silence that opinion. A quote from John Locke that shows this belief is “But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them” [Locke, sect. 140] The context of this quote is John Locke is talking about taxes and saying how the majority must be the ones who decide on taxes so that government cannot take money from people as they please. An objection to the argument that Locke would disagree with Mill; is civil society and therefore its government should come to Mill’s conclusion of free speech, and believe that silencing any opinion is harmful to society, causing the establishment of Mill’s philosophy of free speech in the civil society, and therefore its government. This objection is not valid because the government of a civil society in the view of John Locke would have the right to silence certain opinions that can harm the majority of the civil society. This is because there are a multitude of groups that in the eyes of the majority have irrational beliefs in which open rational discussion would be useless to persuade for a more logical view. For example if there was a group advocating for the dismantlement of the current government the civil government should be able to silence the group. This is because no amount of open rational discussion would change the group’s expression. Therefore instead of wasting time and resources on rational discussion, it would be more beneficial to the safety of the civil society to silence the views. The aims of a civil society is not to help every individual of the society to learn through trial and error. The goal of civil society is to protect the majority and the majority’s property. A civil society’s must use its resources as effectively as possible to properly protect the majorities’ life, freedom, and estate. If an opinion harms the majorities’ life, freedom, and estate it is not the role to only focus on an expression that directly causes harm, but to find what expression leads to harmful action. This is the best, and most effective way for a civil society to function, according to John Locke. The conclusion of this paper is that Mill beliefs in an absolute idea of the freedom of speech where no opinion should be silenced unless it directly causes harm. John Locke would believe in Mill’s idea of freedom in speech in the law of nature, but not within a civil society. Locke would believe that there would be times where the limiting of opinions would be necessary to maintain, and properly run a civil society. Citations Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Place of Publication Not Identified: Oxford U.P, 1924. Print. Locke, John, and Thomas Preston Peardon. The Second Treatise of Government. New York: Liberal Arts, 1952. Print.


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