There are a few very important points that Mill makes in this Chapter. I am going to list them first and then I will talk about them. Note that I have loosely used to WordPress quotation sign but wherever I put inverted commas that the part I have taken directly from Mill.
“People do not have a right to exercise coercion on themselves, by themselves or by the government.” (p.18)
This is an interesting statement and there is nothing more I would like to say about it. Maybe, maybe not. Who cares.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
This is easily the most popular statement of this chapter and it is the core subject around which the rest of the material revolves. It holds the importance of opinion. Mill says that an opinion is popular at one time and then it goes away, there is a very big chance that our current opinions will be proved false later. Mill makes me think that politics is a war of opinions and those that hold the truest opinions should bring them forward and he talks about a way to derive to true opinions.
Even if the opinion is false, you must not silence it.
He has an excellent point here that he improves by quoting examples of Socrates and Jesus. Mill believes that a false opinion should be brought forward because it will raise the probability of your opinion for being true. And if the opinion put against yours is true than it is your duty to adopt the truer opinion. (p.19)
To silence an opinion is to assume infallibility in man.
And we know for sure that man is not infallible? Isn’t the certain belief that we are not infallible posing infallibility too?
“It is the duty of the government and of the individuals to form the truest opinion. We must assume our opinion to be true_for the guidance of our conduct.” (p.20)
This quote makes me wonder what happened to Mill’s Utilitarianism. So we can hold what is true by ourselves. I thought what gave pleasure to the majority was true. Mill says it is true that there is no such thing as absolute certainty but there can be an assurance sufficient to claim your opinion is a true opinion.
How to make sure your opinion is true?
Your opinions should be open to challenge and refutations. (p.21) Every man should be at complete liberty of contradicting an opinion and if the opinion still passes all refutations, it is a true opinion. He talks about how the devil’s advocate is always given a chance even in a Holy place like church.If your opinion is not open to refutation, you have it based on the assumption of your infallibility. A belief is made stronger when it refutes a challenge put against it. Mill gives the example of Socrates and says that a good-willed man like him can be mistaken too. It was the popular opinion of Socrates’ time that went against him, they assumed their opinion infallible and had him drink hemlock. (p.23)
It is common to judge someone’s opinion because of his other beliefs. For instance, people are trusted or not trusted on the basis of their belief in God. It is common to trust a man who posits a very strong belief in God and an opinion coming from an atheist is always looked down upon. That is just incredibly stupid according to Mill. He believes in drawing a line between morality and religion, it is very common to confuse between them. Rather, some people knowingly hold the belief that every belief that comes from the religion is a morally right belief. And also, anything against a religious belief is morally wrong.