The Liberty of Thought and Discussion: Restatement and Implications
John Stuart Mill’s “liberty of thought and discussion” (On Liberty, 1859) is both broader and narrower than some current understandings of free speech. On the one hand, Mill is not concerned only with state censorship: he argues against all attempts, official or otherwise, to restrict the range of opinion and public discussion. On the other hand, he seeks to defend uninhibited discussion of general topics, such as those to do with science, morality, religion, and politics. Thus, he opposes a social environment of orthodoxies and heresies, but he does not defend (for example) defamatory falsehoods or incitements to violence. Mill’s approach is subtle and philosophically rewarding; it is worth revisiting, updating, and pondering for its implications at a time of contention over free speech issues.