Among the literary works on liberty, John Stuart Mill’s contribution is the most significant and elaborative. He expresses the value of an uncompromised conception of liberty in his essay On Liberty. Mill’s dissertation has withstood the test of time to be remembered as an exemplary contribution to critical thought regarding the expression of expression, voice, and discourse. Mill’s assertions about liberty of thought, preference, and expression are founded on full freedom of speech, the absolute rule of society, and the general rule of society. Mill advocated for exercising elevated levels of freedom of speech for the benefit of the entire society. The critics of Mill’s perception included the arguments for dangers of giving unlimited freedom. Moreover, the critics challenge Mill’s view that liberty is a vital principle that has to be maintained, regardless of the cost (Bouton).
The first argument in on liberty suggested that the people need to be taught from their opinion. Educating the people the grounds for their opinion assist them to understand the basis of their belief rather than merely holding of prejudice concerning the opinions. According to Mill’s perception if the differing opinions exist, realizing the truth demands dispelling the contrary arguments. He further argued that if one refutes objections, he/ she doesn’t understand his/ her opinion. Therefore, such a person has to hear objections from those who believe in the objections. The significance of listening to the objections is that those who believe in them are the only one who can exhibit the entire force of the arguments. Moreover, responding to the objections is very crucial in that if they don’t exist, it is important to imagine they do, and think what persuasive arguments that can arise.
In the second argument; Mill considers the human awareness of objections to their beliefs. Mill states that it is not necessary that human beings to generally be aware of the potential objections to what they believe. Therefore, only the theologians and philosophers can possess such awareness. According to Mill, objections do not weaken the argument allowing free discussion; the dissenters deserve the chance to voice their objections to opinions. Furthermore, in the Catholic Church there exists a clear line between the intellectuals and the common people. In the protestant countries such as England, everybody is held responsible for his/her choices. In the current world, it is impractical to maintain writings for only intellectuals and keep them from access by the common people. In this argument, Mill gives a hint of the freedom of choice, speech as well as opinion.
Mills’ third argument addresses the importance of freedom of thought and discussion. According to Stuart, if a true opinion doesn’t meet the threshold for debate, it means may cease to exist. A good example is the history of the religious and ethical beliefs; when such opinions stopped to become challengeable, their ‘living power’ was lost. Perhaps, Christianity is faced with a similar scenario; the people’s beliefs are not a true reflection of their conduct. Because of the loss of the significance/ value of the beliefs, the people do not understand the doctrines of them. As a result of the misunderstanding of the beliefs and doctrines, the people have committed serious mistakes.
Strengths of Mill’s Arguments
Looking at all arguments in Mill’s essay, the freedom of speech is a critical part of human life. The freedom of speech controls the flow of information within the society. By emphasizing objection, Mill espouses the necessity to respect the other people’s opinions. Therefore, Mill outlines the necessity for holding discussions. Discussions are relevant to the dispute resolutions. Moreover, giving the dissenting opinions a voice means that the freedom of expression is universally accessible to all the people. Mill criticizes the understanding of people’s opinions and beliefs. Therefore, he invites the critical thinking in understanding the laws, science, politics, religion as well as culture. Following Mill’s approach would ensure that people don’t follow laws, beliefs, rules, or customs that they do not understand. He invites the sense of understanding one’s beliefs so that people’s actions follow what they believe.
The emphasis on the necessity of the freedom of speech indicates that communication is relevant for the prosperity of any society. The advancement in the communication technology such as the application of the social media plays a key role in the freedom of expression. The freedom of speech in the internet communication is exercised by the worldwide accessibility of the internet. All the people have the right to access as well as relay information/ communication using the internet. Therefore, the control imposed on the freedom of expressions such as social media and journalism censorship is vital for societal progress.
In the third argument, Mill advocates that freedom of speech is essential to the fact that it has to be reached at any cost. In his view, the press communication, speech, and individuals right to access information is an obligation of the relevant authorities and the people at the personal level. Therefore, there should not be any unjustifiable hindrance to freedom of speech. It is important to note that Mill advocates for agitation of demonstrations, civil acts or rebellion against any attempt to deprive the people their rights of speech. Mill’s argument encourages the individuals, civil-societies, and activists to stand firm in the protection of their rights of free speech (Jefferson).
Mill advocates for one to take responsibility for their freedom of speech. By stating so, he expresses the importance of one to understand, own and be accountable for his/ her communication. Mill invites the sense of incorporating one’s confidence in communications and arguments. He acknowledges that all human need to be conscious of the fact that their communication is subject to varied interpretation. In such an approach, the freedom of speech is directed by the attitude towards the other people, society or personal interests (Mill). Meaning, one has to communicate, talk or hold opinions that have been thoroughly thought.
Limits of Mills Argument
There exist situations whereby the society is distinguishable from an individual. In such a situation, the interest of a society surpasses and individuals liberty of choice, decision, discussion or even speech. An individual is held as part of the community. Therefore, some provisions of absolute freedom may be favorable to an individual but jeopardize the society’s interests. Some choices and actions affect an individual directly and influence the society indirectly. Mill’s argument on understanding one’s opinion and accommodating the dissenting views is a positive approach towards universal liberty. But a critical look at his arguments gives a glimpse that he advocates for limiting the freedom of speech and expression. For instance, he emphasizes on giving the response to the objections. The objections may come as a way to silence an individual either by society or other powerful human organizations. Therefore Mill seems to support the deprivation of the freedom of speech for the interest of serving the parties with the contrary opinion.
The instances of the society infringing the individuals’ freedom of speech are evident in the modern world. Regardless of the efforts of promoting democracy and freedom of speech, some scenarios have indicated absolutely contrary approaches. For instance, in 2013, a blogger from Alabama (Roger Shuler) was jailed for five months. According to Roger Shuler, he had committed no crime other than exercising his freedom of speech. He failed to delete the posts on his website that criticized state corruption and politics. According to the judgment, he was guilty of contempt of court for failure to remove the posts. The case revolutionized the laws governing the web communication (Dizard).
In Mill’s third argument, the freedom of speech is a responsibility of everyone. Therefore freedom of speech is universal, and ought to be exercised by everybody. He emphasized the value of freedom of speech that it has to be accessible at all costs. However, following such an approach, there’s likely to be a conflict between the authority and individuals freedom of expression. There is a need to exercise the freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t deter the rights of the others. In other words, the freedom of speech is limited by the sense of the objections. Therefore a speech has both legitimate and illegitimate interpretation by the people.
In the democratic societies, the freedom of speech forms a core aspect of democracy. The perception by several organizations, individuals as well as the government gives significant weight to the freedom of speech. For instance, the United States Constitution recognizes the freedom of speech as part of the human rights. Similarly the UN advocates for universal freedom of speech. However, communication has evolved; the impact of freedom of expression via the modern media has serious political, legal and economic consequences. For instance, the application of the internet in communication and media reaches more people than before. Therefore the impact of communication is more pronounced than in the past. Looking at the potential in modern communication, there is need to regulate the freedom of speech to avoid the conflict between the human rights and the rule of law. There is a high potential for misuse of freedom of speech to create undesirable harm to individuals and the society in general (Naab).
The freedom of speech is enshrined in the universal human rights. John Stuart Mill expresses his understanding of freedom of speech as a responsibility to understand one’s opinion, give credit to objections, and understanding the value of freedom of speech. Although the general perception of freedom of speech outlines the value and necessity of liberty, there is need to consider the limitations to the freedom of speech. The limitations to the freedom of speech sets in where an individual’s freedom of speech jeopardizes the rights of others. In such instances, there are considerable economic, political, and legal impacts of exercising the absolute freedom of speech. In other words, there is a need to control the freedom of speech so that it doesn’t interfere with the rule of law. In the modern world, communication has been revolutionized by the use of information technology. Therefore, it is necessary to amend the laws on freedom of speech to include the media communication.
Bouton, Clark. W. John Stuart Mill: On Liberty and History. n.d. 06 December 2017.
Dizard, Wilson. Case of jailed blogger raises First Amendment concerns. 8 April 2014. 6 December 2017.
Jefferson. “The Limits of Government Authority.” On Liberty (2011): 5. Print.
Mill, John Stuart. “Liberalism: Chapter 2; Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.” On Liberty (2017): 57-59. Print.
Naab, Teresa K. “The Relevance of People’s Attitudes Towards Freedom of Expression in a Changing Media Environment.” Journal for Communication Studies (2012): 45-67. Print.