How much liberty is too much? In On Liberty John Stuart Mill argues that even erroneous opinions are good because they allow us to strengthen our evidence and arguments for a true opinion and against an erroneous opinion. This forms a critical part of his argument for the freedoms of opinion, speech, the press, and public gathering. He argues that only a weakly held and defended conviction needs to be protected from dissent by stamping out said dissent. Thus, because any true opinion is worth holding and defending strongly, we need not fear dissent against that erroneous opinion because it simply strengthens our arguments for true opinion. However, can this be taken to every extreme.

Every system of belief is founded on presuppositions. For instance, the presupposition that scripture is a divine message from God, not just an esoteric bit of occult philosophy cobbled together by interested parties over a few hundred years. Or the presupposition that human reason is capable of discovering all meaningful truth given enough time and attention. Or the presupposition that our senses are fundamentally trustworthy. Or the presupposition that those who came before us did trustworthy work which is valid and which accurately reflects truth and reality. However, as Aristotle, Aquinas, and others point out all such presuppositions must be simply accepted. For instance, I cannot test the veracity of reason as a foundation for thought using reason. Thus, if reason is the foundation for my thought, I cannot test it. Further, I cannot verify that my senses are accurate using my senses, etc.

Given this, can we follow Mill’s argument to the extreme of accepting and allowing any and all attacks against the foundations of our thought? For instance, in an age when reason reigned supreme, would Mill have argued that we should treat seriously the man who condemns reason as an idolatrous tool of fools? Or should we condemn him as a religious fanatic? In an age when scripture is taken to be God’s own truth, should we treat the man who rejects its historical value entirely seriously? Or should we condemn him as a heretic?

This is my question for you today: we can (I hope) all agree that the liberty of opinion, speech, the press, and public gathering have general value. However, how far can this be taken? Is there any stopping point, or must everything be open to the dialectic? Why?

As always, provide a 1000 word story that presents and defends your response to the question.

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One thought on “Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

  1. It shall be a difficult teply so i have my one thout’s but i know a bit from this and i’am be katholic growing up i hav a bible and i have somting from Socrates. So i can somting go further a way but 1000 words are muth. This is verry intresting what you give.

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