Philosophy 203

Nov. 11, 2014

In T.S. Mill’s “On Liberty,” Mill argues that no opinion should be suppressed regardless of certainty or falsity for there may contain a small percentage of truth to it. There are no other cases where opinion should be suppressed except for those that inflect harm on others. I will defend this argument against objections by replying to objections.

Let us consider the belief in God as an opinion. An opinion is defined by a viewpoint of some kind. Belief in God suggests one’s viewpoint. The belief in God is a valid opinion. This is the held opinion. Let us take this also as the received opinion or the opinion that we believe is true. The belief opposite the held opinion or view is known as the contrary opinion. In this case, the contrary opinion would be the disbelief in God or no belief in God. Opinions are separate but equal. They are separate for each must represents its own unique case. The contrary opinion is opposing the held opinion, but in no way is either opinion held in higher regard. What this means is no opinion is better than the other.

I have just defined the two types of opinions. Now I will make an objection against suppressing an opinion that does not involve harm to others and say why that objection is wrong. Why should we acknowledge false opinion? First, Mill argues that we should acknowledge all opinion regardless of certainty (truthfulness) or falsity. He reasons that by acknowledging all opinion I am using my judgment to the best of my ability. Secondly, there may be some truth within a false opinion. By not hearing all opinions I am suppressing not only all true opinions but also false opinions that may hold a grain of truth to them. So not only will the truth be hidden but in doing so I have compromised my judgment. For this reason opinion should not be suppressed.

What if the opinion is true but has no good reason, meaning, and accurate justification? First, we must reflect on the validity of the held opinion. We need to know why we think our opinion is true. Knowing why we think our opinion is true means having a reason to support the opinion. Support strengthens the opinion. A strong opinion communicates more convincingly its truth than does a weak opinion. Second, it is more important to know a reason than not. The reason does not need to be good, but their needs to be a reason, for the sake of supporting the held opinion. A reasonless opinion renders the opinion weak and defenseless. It is also offensive; the opinion will be communicated as if the person holding the opinion doesn’t know why he believe it to be true, and doesn’t not care. If that is the case, I am holding my opinion in the manner of a prejudice.

Mill argues it is bad for a rational being to hold an opinion in this manner, without reflecting first upon the possibility that the held opinion may be false.

Thirdly, Reflecting upon the possibility of falsity within an opinion is a way to providing reason for the opinion. For the example opinion I used earlier “I believe God exists.” A possible reason could be, “I believe this because I read it in the bible.” That is a reason. The reason makes the belief stronger. The reason allows you to show others where the truth of falsity lay; to strengthen opinion; to hold the opinion in an unprejudiced manner.

What if the opinion is irrational? First, People can have any opinion they want but they must do so by being open to reason. Second, any opinion contrary to your own is going to seem at least somewhat less temperate, it is going to make less sense to you. Therefore, irrationality is not enough to suppress an opinion. We must remember that irrational opinions, along with false opinion, may hold a grain of truth to them.

What is enough to suppress an opinion? First, When it will cause harm to others. Mill says harming people is bad, so we shouldn’t do it. Support? Beyond what is acceptable to morals? What we must ask ourselves is does this do more harm than good. Where is the line drawn? Should those who believe suppress others without this belief?

But I think I’d like to argue a case where the opposed opinion should be temporarily suppressed if it is relentless. Could this be so?


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