“In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”

“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.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Are there other philosophers that have a similar take as that of Mill on the nature of speech (Freedom of speech that does not cause violence or violation/transgression of 'my' rights)?

  • Not my field, but isn't this basically the libertarian view?
    – commando
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 16:26
  • @commando Do you mean, by libertarian, the political movement? I am uncertain how Libertarians view freedom of speech, in general, but it seems rather broad to assume all libertarians view speech this way. Often they desire a smaller federal government and greater states rights. This is very similar to our original party named the democratic-republicans, which viewed politics almost identically to the new libertarians. I'm meaning philosophers that address freedom of speech in the same way, no longer silencing the dissenting voice. Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 16:41
  • @NationWidePants Libertarian is not only a political term. There are Libertarian ethical philosophers, cf. Nozick (when younger). Limiting interference in individual rights by groups and institutions is a basic principle of both the party and the philosophy. So I would have to say commando is right.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


Chomsky does, he has a book where he describes what he calls the 'manufacture of consent'.

It's implicit in Mills argument that one can have a legally enshrined freedom of speech, but that this doesn't get past the 'tyranny of opinion'.

Chomsky is describing how in the era of mass media this tyranny of opinion is manufactured; and how opinion that is nonetheless well-argued so not eccentric is marginalised; and by being marginalised is rendered invisible and impotent.

I'm not sure that eccentric in Mills time has the same meaning as it does now; perhaps diverse might be a better choice; so Mill is arguing that a diverse range of opinion shows implicitly that the tyranny of opinion doesn't hold sway tyrannically.

It might be worth pointing out that Arendt regards the arts as a barometer of the range of opinion.

It's also worth pointing out, I think, that some such tyranny has to hold away, as not all opinion is created alike; the question is its range, width or diversity.

  • I would tend to agree with your interpretation of his intent when addressing the term "eccentric"; that was my assessment as well. Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 17:12

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