Tuesday, 22 April 2014

John Stuart Mill said a bit more about the right to free speech

Peter Brent in Yes but what would Mill say? notes that many people like to quote John Stuart Mill when arguing about free speech. However, he notes that these people tend to be selective in their quotes.
These Libertarians are wont to quote centuries old European philosophers, with John Stuart Mill probably the favourite, on how speech should be unbridled. Sometimes it looks like the results of a Google search.

And that’s a game we can all play. How about this from JS Mill:

“there are many acts which, being directly injurious only to the agents themselves, ought not to be legally interdicted, but which, if done publicly, are a violation of good manners and, coming thus within the category of offenses against others, may rightly be prohibited.”
Brent also writes:
Jeremy Bentham, who JS Mill was (at least initially) a disciple of, reckoned all that earlier stuff about “natural rights” and men being “born free” was the biggest load of rubbish—"rhetorical nonsense”, he called it, and “nonsense upon stilts” and “[a]bsurd and miserable nonsense!”

Now I’m even less of a Mill expert than I am a Bentham one, but I’m quite sure he also believed that human rights do not come out of the earth and rocks, but are indeed “decided”, or at least identified, by someone, or some people. Such as his good self.
There is no absolute right to free speech in any society, and I’m not just referring to defamation laws. If someone stood outside your property for 18 hours a day, week after week, yelling abuse at you and your family, I’m pretty sure you could get the coppers to move them on.

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