on liberty Critically comment on the following lines from ON LIBERTY: "If all mankind minus one were of a opinion,and only one person were of the contrary opinion,mankind would be no more...

on liberty

Critically comment on the following lines from ON LIBERTY:

"If all mankind minus one were of a opinion,and only one person were of the contrary opinion,mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person,than he, if he had the power,would be justified silencing mankind."

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Asked on by reej

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that this is not the right situation for Mill to be talking about.  When all of humanity save for one is all of the same opinion, the one person's opinion is not dangerous.  Let me suggest another situation -- one in which suppressing dissent would be more beneficial, perhaps.

Imagine if there is a strong minority of say 20 percent -- one that holds a view very strongly.  Let us then say their view is completely abhorrent (say that they want to kill all people who are somehow "wrong" -- wrong race, wrong religion, whatever).  These people are now a very dangerous group because they have the numbers and the fanaticism to harm the society.

So I think that Mill is using the wrong example.  I think that his example is not the one where we would be most tempted to censor or silence an opinion.  Therefore, I have a harder time accepting his premise that all expression must be allowed at all times.

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This quote has to do with the voice of the minority--in this case an almost minuscule minority--being heard.  A simplistic paraphrase might be that one person has the same right to voice an opinion as does an entire group which shares a differing opinion.  The key word for me is "silence."  In America, anyway, one does have the right to speak dissent--even if it is a lone voice.  In other places and at other times, this has not been true.  In those societies, dissent is not permissible and could get one killed; in the United States, spoken dissent is a right.  What harm is there in one voice speaking against the majority? In a free and open society, none. 

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