On mill, infallibility, and freedom of expression

Res Publica 13 (1):77-100 (2007)

Abstract
Philosophers have tended to dismiss John Stuart Mill’s claim that ‘all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility’. I argue that Mill’s ‘infallibility claim’ is indeed open to many objections, but that, contrary to the consensus, those objections fail to defeat the anti-authoritarian thesis which lies at its core. I then argue that Mill’s consequentialist case for the liberty of thought and discussion is likewise capable of withstanding some familiar objections. My purpose is to suggest that Mill’s anti-authoritarianism and his faith in thought and discussion, when taken seriously, supply the basis for a ‘public interest’ account of ‘freedom of expression as the liberty of thought and discussion’ which is faithful to Mill in spirit, if not to the precise letter. I outline such an account, which – as I say in conclusion – can serve as a valuable safeguard against ad hoc, reactive legislation, and the demands of a spurious communitarianism.
Keywords free speech  freedom of expression  thought and discussion  J. S. Mill: On Liberty
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-006-9016-5
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