One can not fully understand Mill’s argument for the freedom of speech, without putting it into context, and understanding the background to the formulation of his theory. This is the first thing this essay will cover, and then lead on to the actual premises that Mill gives for his argument for freedom of speech.
The first thing to note about Mill, is that he is a liberalist, but on the grounds of utilitarianism. What this means is that he believes in freedom for all people, but on the grounds that this freedom must maximise the happiness, or utility, for the maximum number of people. This leads to some difficult contradictions, because the freedom of one person may infringe upon the freedom of another, therefore causing unhappiness for the latter, therefore failing in utilitarian terms.
Another point worth noting about Mill, is that he was a strong follower of Bentham’s utilitarianism. In his works, he attempted to elaborate and perhaps improve certain aspects of Bentham’s work.
Firstly, Mill puts forward the premise that the action of limiting the expression of another person’s opinion, makes that action wrong. This is because, as is the reason for most of Mill’s premises in the Liberty of thought and discussion, the point is not that that person’s opinion may be true or false, and that opinions are true for everyone, i.e. opinions being relative to the context and the individual, but that these opinions may be correct and that a person would have been silenced.
But why would this be such a terrible thing? Mill believes that, apart from that thought or opinion possibly being true, human beings are not ‘infallible’. What he means by this is that since humans are not perfect, what gives one person, or a group of people, the authority to say that another person’s opinion is wrong, and that no one has the real ability to decide by themselves what is best for an entire group, or population.
Mill believes that the...