What are Mill's views on freedom of thought and expression in On Liberty?

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sean475 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Stuart Mill is very much for both the freedom of thought and the freedom of expression in his influential essay On Liberty. In fact, these freedoms are the core of his political and philosophical thought, and underlie much of his other works as well. They are also the underpinning of many of the liberal forms of government that dominate the Western world, including democracy.

Importantly for Mill, being able to think and express yourself without limitation cannot be a bad thing because it leads to either new ideas or to new and vigorous defense of old ones: either the expression of a new idea is adopted by society because it is better or the new idea challenges the old one and reveals new reasons for why it is adhered to. This either leads to an innovative concept that has the potential to change how we live or continues an old conversation and prevents the old idea from being followed dogmatically and out of mere tradition.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mill holds a very passionate view of freedom of thought and expression in On Liberty.  Mill’s ideas have been a source of inspiration for those concerned with civil liberty and individual freedom.  Mill's fundamental premise was concerned with the social or political order and their relationship to individual freedom.  Mill argues that unless there is a specific risk posed to another person, there should not be a limitation or curtailing of freedom.  Mill was concerned much more with physical and material harm than with moral or spiritual harm when he asserted that society might restrain the individual from harming others.  Flying in the face of other theories he had advocated in his writing, Mill's passionate defense of individual freedom of though and expression becomes his fundamental driving force in the work.