In J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty,” Mill supports the freedom of speech.9 By supporting freedom of speech, Mill supports freedom of thought, and expression. Included in free thought, and expression, is our capability to form an opinion. Is it reasonable to suppress an opinion that we disagree with? Mill argues that neither perceived nor contrary opinion should be suppressed.9 He gives us one exception, in a case where opinion brings harm to another.9 Mill is speaking of expressed opinion rather than written or published opinion.11 He is considering opinion held by all rational human beings, meaning, children are excluded from his argument. 9
I would like to argue against Mill by searching for and finding a case where other than infliction of harm, opinion should be suppressed. I will begin by explaining that there are two types of opinion. The received opinion, which is the individual’s held belief, and contrary opinion; which is opposite the held opinion.17 I could not find a good reason (other harm done to others) why opinion should be suppressed, and I agreed with Mill, because I found that despite whatever disagreement I may find in a contrary opinion, I am losing more than I can gain when I close myself off from potential truth.
Why might we want to suppress opinion? To take away power from individuals and to control society.13 We may not want to hear our opinion is wrong or we may believe with confidence that it is true.50 There is more than one reason for wanting to suppress opinion. Take the case where I am confident my opinion is absolutely true, and therefore perfect. Humans aren’t perfect yet I sometimes think I can have a perfect opinion.17 I do not think it is a good enough reason to say opinion should be suppressed if it can never be perfect. Though perfect opinion is impossible, there is something to learn from opinion.50 Mill says we can learn truth, and we can learn to refine our own beliefs.51 We refine our beliefs we seeing truth in others or falsity in our own.50 And as long as there is room for error, there is room for error to be corrected.19 I cannot disagree that I should not want to correct my error if I am searching for the truth. That would be like saying I want to have a true opinion, but I don’t want to go about the process it takes to find truth.
Mill believes opinion should not be suppressed because it may hold a small truth to it despite what falsity we might percieve.50 Any opinion I perceive at first as false, after careful consideration, may not be entirely so. 18 I cannot disagree with Mill until I have gone out and tried this for myself. Mill brings up the importance of discussion. He says in discussion we can realize our mistakes and correct our judgment when it is wrong.19 I am in agreement with Mill opinion that in suppressing opinion we lose the ability to correct its falsity. By suppressing opinion we are losing discussion; the element we need to discover new ideas.19 We are suppressing what truth an individual is able to share.
Mill believes even if we could find an opinion that was truly false, suppressing it would still be evil (bad). 18 Having an opinion that is truly false is not enough to stifle it.18 Mill’s argument is that by stifling an opinion we are stifling some sort of truth no matter how small it is or whether or not we can see it. By stifling truth we are suppressing new ideas and the ability to challenge an already perceived opinion.18
I cannot disagree with Mill because I believe the importance of being able to challenge a perceived truth and being wrong is better than not being able to challenge a perceived truth at all. Mill supports this by saying the prevailing opinion is rarely the whole truth.50
If I am in disagreement with an opinion and I want to suppress it, should I or shouldn’t I? I don’t see any truth in it, or I don’t like it, or maybe I find the opinion unreasonable. Mill has said that I won’t be able to refine my own beliefs if I do not consider the beliefs of others. Whether or not I want to hear a contrary opinion, I will be cutting out a lot of ideas by suppressing it.19 Those ideas contain an element of truth. So by suppressing opinion I miss the opportunity to gain truth.18 What if I am just not hearing any truth in a contrary opinion? I am in agreement with Mill because if I strive to find a truth with in a false opinion then I will have to keep looking for one. After he has proven that there is no perfect opinion because humans are infallible, I know there must be a truth somewhere, and it is just that I have not found it. I cannot disagree with this. A variety of opinion is of value if we wish to know about a subject in its entirety. 19
In the case where harm is inflicted on another person because of opinion, Mill agrees the opinion should be suppressed, such as the case of collective opinion in violent protest.20 In a case where life is in danger, the value of life becomes more important. This is the only example where suppressing the opinion does good. Suppression opinion for reason of disagreement is not a good reason to suppress opinion. There is more value for truth to be sought and for challenged ideas to rise than it is to stifle an opinion because of disagreement, or mild intemperance.
What if harm is not severe but intemperate? If someone is just yelling in my face about their opinion then they are not expressing it in a temporal manner. Maybe I would have to wait until we both can speak our opinions temporally, otherwise I would have a hard time hearing what is being expressed. In this case, no good is being done because neither of us understands one another; neither hears truth. Mill argues that we are inclined not to listen to opinion less temperate than our own.50 But is this a good reason to stifle the opinion? No, the opinion is still valuable. The person shouting may not realize his opinion is not being heard. He must realize his mistake so his opinion may be heard. There is much more to consider, but I did not come up with a good reason to prove Mill wrong.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Raleigh, N.C.: Hackett, 1978. 6-52. Print.