John Stuart Mill’s Explanation of the Harm Principle

2482 Words Dec 1st, 2011 10 Pages
John Stuart Mill’s explanation of the harm principle is not as useful as once believed. Although the harm principle does in fact have some logic, it fails to set clear and concise borders regarding what denotes allowable hate speech. The harm principle essentially states that all speech, including hate speech, should be allowed. However, speech that causes a definable harm must be censored. For example, merely offensive speech is allowed; however, the context of the offensive speech in question is important in understanding when to apply Mill’s harm principle. The principle has some major flaws, as Mill does not take into consideration the numerous factors that must be examined before deciding whether or not to apply the principle, such as …show more content…
Even if a critique is meaningless, Mill argues that we did our best at attempting to ensure the validity of a claim. We should therefore study all modes and perspectives in which something can be looked at, since our knowledge base depends on subjecting ourselves to alternative viewpoints to know the truth about something. The disagreement and contestation that potentially occurs is what leads to the truth.

Furthermore, contrary to the beliefs of certain monarchs during his time, Mill argued that human beings are not infallible; therefore, we can never be certain that anything is definite, because we are not in a position to be judges of certainty (Cahn 443). The usefulness of an opinion is subjective and open to discussion, and due to the fallibility of humans, no individual has the right to stifle the opinion of another, for we can never be certain we are stifling a false opinion (Cahn 461). Even our truest convictions must be tested, Mill argues, because even they can be partly mistaken. However, it may in fact be that our convictions are logical and valid. Mill asserts that even then we must subject ourselves to critics and alternative viewpoints; only then can our convictions become vivid in our mind and character. If our beliefs are not tested, they will become robotic and lifeless. Further, Mill argues that we must not think in black and white, for different positions have value in them and since we are not judges of what is
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