Mill on Freedom of Expression and Censorship

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Censorship has always been a crucial issue in political thinking. It refers to banning someone to express her thoughts. So it can be banning a movie, a book, a poem or a painting, etc. Censorship is the opposite of the idea of freedom of expression. We often come across the discussion on allowing or banning certain art pieces. The demand for banning certain books or films comes to the news almost every year. Why do certain groups pose such demands? What justifies such demands?

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Censorship and freedom of expression are interconnected. Those who support censorship argue that freedom of expression is not absolute. They hold that there must be some limit to it if it harms social integrity as allowing all thoughts in public may harm society. Therefore, they argue that censorship may save society from the corruption of ideas.

However, Mill presents very significant arguments in favor of freedom of expression and against censorship. His purpose is to show that an opinion must be expressed in a well-ordered society because a well-ordered society is based on common interests. A society cannot have common interests if it does not allow its people to express their opinion. In a good society differences of opinions should be allowed. Hence, he believes that freedom of expression is necessary for a well-ordered society. Censoring an opinion is not adequate for a well-ordered society.

Further, Mill argues that human knowledge is limited. We do not have the access to the complete truth. What we consider the truth today may become false tomorrow. There is always a possibility for an opinion to be true. For example, earlier, we used to think of the earth as the center but later we came to know that the sun is the center of our galaxy.

Moreover, freedom of expression allows different ideas to interact. The interaction of different ideas is crucial to reaching closer to the truth. Unless we do not share our truth claims with others, we cannot know the truth value of the claims. Hence, even if we think that a particular opinion is false, we should allow it to be expressed and discussed. Otherwise, it will be only our prejudice. We must know the reasons why the particular opinion is false. To know the reason, we must not be prejudiced and must be able to discuss it freely.

Therefore, if we censor certain kinds of opinions, we will never be able to know whether they are right or not. Common interest cannot be known without having a free discussion on different kinds of opinions, therefore, freedom of expression is crucial.

Furthermore, Mill supports the idea of free and equal discussion among adults. He keeps children out of the freedom of expression. Parents can disallow their children to express some of their opinions. Free and equal discussions help society to understand what is in the interest of its people. Fulfilling common interests is the goal of a well-ordered society.

Mill on Liberty of Expression (

See also Rawls’s Political Liberalism in Hindi

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