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What are Mill’s four main arguments in defence of freedom of speech?

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Introduction

What are Mill's four main arguments in defence of freedom of speech? Which, in your opinion, is the weakest argument? Explain what objections might be raised to this argument, and consider what responses (if any) might be raised to these objections on behalf of Mill. In defending freedom of speech and ideas from suppression and censorship, subject to the Harm Principle, Mill laid down four arguments to show that such suppression was contrary to the good of 'the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation', both to those who are suppressed and more acutely the suppresser. The arguments are as follows; firstly the idea might be true. To assume otherwise is to assume infallibility. Secondly, though the idea might be wrong, it may contain some truth missing from the orthodox view and thus by being openly discussed and refuted the true element may be isolated and incorporated into the larger truth. Thirdly, even if the established truth is the whole truth, it must be criticised and challenged or it will become a received opinion, held without rational argument. Finally, Mill argues, if orthodox opinion goes unchallenged it stands in danger of losing its power and becoming something professed, but not deeply believed. ...read more.

Middle

Irvine has written a number of books and articles attempting to recast Adolph Hitler as a great war leader and denying the systematic attempted extermination of the Jewish race. Mill would allow this under the Harm Principle as long as there was no accompanying incitement to violence and because no matter how firmly and with what evidence an opinion is held, challenges must be allowed. Many authors and historians have published work attempting to discredit Irvine's methodology and conclusions and indeed Irvine sued and threatened to sue the authors and publishers for libel. Thus in court Irvine's arguments and those of his opponents were publicly and dispassionately analysed and Irvine was found to be wanting in all cases. In this way, as Mill showed, the truth, in this case the history of the Holocaust was reaffirmed and kept alive rather than becoming a dry historical fact. Mill's fourth argument is closely linked to the above 'Dead Dogma' argument. He holds that unless a belief is challenged and examined it ends up losing its power to motivate its believers. Mill's example is the commandments and moral lessons of the Bible to which lip-service was paid, in his opinion, in Victorian England. ...read more.

Conclusion

If we look to either Christianity in Communist Russia or Falon Gong in modern China we can see clearly that, given the correct circumstances, religious belief can thrive under conditions of oppression. As to the problem of anecdotal evidence, there is not much answer other than to point to the wide range of other sources for similar evidence. One might take the work of Dickens as a social commentator of his time, or the necessity for child labour legislation to show that Mill was not the only person to recognise and comment on the problems and their causes of his time. In response to the objections as a whole it might be argued that rather than making a specific point about Victorian Christianity Mill was making a general point and using the opportunity to level a damaging accusation at a group he felt strongly about even though in dong so he weakened his own argument. Therefore, in my opinion, the 'link with action' argument is the weakest of the four. It can be objected to on the grounds of being simplistic and not allowing for other influences, that it is based on a single example and that that example is based on anecdotal evidence. These can be responded to by allowing for those other influences, providing further examples and pointing out a range of other sources of similar anecdotal evidence. 1 of 7 ...read more.

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