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J.S. Mill's Boundaries of Freedom of Expression: A Critique


The essay opens with some background information about the period in which J.S. Mill wrote. The discussion revolves around the concept of blasphemy which Mill considered to be highly problematic. Tagging unpopular views as ‘blasphemous’ amounted to abuse of governmental powers and infringed on the basic liberties of the out-of-favour speakers. The discussion on blasphemy sets the scene to the understanding of Mill's concerns, his priorities and consequently his emphasis on the widest possible liberty of expression. Section 2 presents the Millian principles that are pertinent to his philosophy of free speech: liberty and truth. Section 3 analyzes Mill's very limited boundaries to freedom of expression, asserting that the consequentialist reasoning had led Mill to ignore present tangible harm. It is argued that democracy is required to develop protective mechanisms against harm-facilitating speech.

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R. Cohen-Almagor , ‘Between Autonomy and State Regulation: ‘J.S. Mill's Elastic Paternalism’, Philosophy 87 (4) (October 2012), 557582

D.O. Brink , Mill's Progressive Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

S.D. Smith , ‘Is the Harm Principle Liberal?’, American J. of Jurisprudence 51 (2006), 138

C.E. Baker , ‘Autonomy and Hate Speech’, in Ivan Hare and James Weinstein (eds), Extreme Speech and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 139157

Alan Kidd , State, Society and the Poor in 19th-Century England (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)

J. Riley , ‘J.S. Mill's Doctrine of Freedom of Expression’, Utilitas 17 (2) (July 2005), 147–79

R. Cohen-Almagor , ‘Why Tolerate? Reflections on the Millian Truth Principle’, Philosophia 25 (1–4) (1997), 131152

J.S. Mill , ‘The Letters of J.S. Mill’, in Francis E. Mineka (ed.), The Earlier Letters of J.S. Mill, 1812–1848, in Collected Works XII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963)

Daniel Jacobsen , ‘Mill on Liberty, Speech and Free Society’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 29 (3) (2000): 276309, at 286

Jeremy Waldron , The Harm in Hate Speech (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012)

R. Cohen-Almagor , ‘Political Extremism and Incitement in Israel 1993–1995, 2003–2005: A Study of Dangerous Expressions’, Democracy and Security 3 (1) (2007), 2143

R. Cohen-Almagor , Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway (NY and Washington DC.: Cambridge University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015)

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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