John Stuart Mill's big idea: Harsh critics make good thinkers

Keith Whittington, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, breaks down three key free speech arguments by John Stuart Mill.

Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • 19th-century political philosopher John Stuart Mill defended the right of free societies to explore radical and dangerous ideas.
  • One of his arguments was based on humility: You must be prepared to be wrong, and genuinely be open to being persuaded. Put your ideas into intellectual battle by exposing them to the harshest critics. These critics will show up your flaws and make you a more sophisticated thinker.
  • Another of Mill's arguments was concerned with arrogance. He criticized the common tendency to want to shield other people from dangerous ideas as paternalistic. You can judge good ideas from bad ideas; you should afford everyone the same respect.
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