Could one censor pornography, on Millean grounds?

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GV100 – Introduction to Political Theory, Essay No 4

Name: Sarah Pickwick        Class: 7        Teacher: Mr J Olsson

Could one censor pornography, on Millean grounds?

For years the censorship of pornography has been heavily debated, with philosophers like Mill commonly being quoted. Although Mill does not specifically refer to pornography in his work he gives a variety of principles, all of which are open to interpretation, by which we can come to conclusions on censorship.  Views on censorship mainly depend on the harm or offence it causes and what kind of pornography is being considered. Pornography ranges from hardcore to soft, involving consenting adults on one hand and on the other hand forcing children to participate in it. Similarly some viewers simply look at it and it has no other effect on them except to “stimulate sexual excitement. However it is claimed that some pornography depicts a degrading picture of women and in some cases has incited men to use violence against women.  In my essay I shall outline what Mill stated concerning freedom of action, spend some time defining and explaining pornography and then link the two, showing both arguments for and against censorship of pornography on Millean grounds. 

J.S.Mill is often referred to as the founding father of modern liberalism particularly due to his emphasis on freedom of speech and action and minimal government interference so as to maximise human development. Although not specifically mentioning pornography in his work, his general principles can be interpreted to either support or oppose censorship of pornography. Mill states that humans have two basic rights or freedoms, firstly that of freedom of intellect, namely to have beliefs and to be able to express them and secondly freedom of action, the freedom to act in accordance with those beliefs. Mill himself didn’t like the social pressures that were on people during the 1940’s fearing that this would result in “social tyranny, where the majority force their prevailing morality on the minority. This would fetter the development of individuals and so Mill’s chief aim is to set a limit, firstly on the exercise of collective opinion on individuals and secondly on interference from the state and others on the individual freedom. Mill’s defence of freedom of action is most accurately described in his Liberty principle where “the sole end of which mankind are warranted in interfering with the liberty of action is self protection...the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. 

He puts people’s actions into two categories, self regarding and other regarding, where he states that harmful other regarding acts can be interfered with whereas harmful self regarding acts should not be. As a utilitarian, Mill believed in the principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number and connected freedom to this happiness.  In a search for truth, that brings happiness, people must have freedom to act according to their own plan for their lives, as they know best for themselves in an attempt to use the “elevated faculties that we all possess. So in this light Mill believed that people should “not live according to customs or social traditions but rather on the basis of their own judgement – based on their own needs, desires personality and interests. Development is individual to each person and the one who has the greatest character, according to Mill, is the one whose impulses and desires are strongest and whose nature is “energetic.  Restrictions should not be placed on people simply due to others having feelings of disgust, resentment or jealously but only if harm is being caused to others and even then, only if it is better to do so for the general interest of everybody. 

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So having seen what Mill believes generally, it is then necessary to define and think about pornography in the modern world. Pornography can viewed in a variety of ways including writings, pictures and films. A common medium today is via the Internet. Its full definition as stated before is something that stimulates sexual excitement” (see1) but can involve many different people. Pornography can also be divided into soft-core and hardcore, with more sexually explicit and indecent forms coming under the illegal category of hardcore. 

The question before us is whether Mills principles can warrant pornography censorship. Many would argue ...

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