I understand that Mill was a big advocate of freedom of speech and expression. Im just wondering whether he just saw that as state policy or if he thought that on an individual level all speech is ethically positive so long as it doesnt go against the harm principle

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    I just want to comment that I hate the expression "For <person>, <proposition> is true" as if truth were simply what a person thinks. If a proposition is true it's true for everyone. Instead one should say, "<person> believes/holds/asserts/claims <proposition>."
    – causative
    Apr 22, 2021 at 6:43
  • I contend that the problem is the solution. I'm inclined to invoke the Buddha on this one. Read his sutras and their commentaries or if you're feeling lucky, Google <left ta yer imagination> and click on the I'm feeling lucky button. Love ya tons.
    – Hudjefa
    May 12, 2023 at 11:42
  • We must either turn the knob or pull the lever. Do anything else and you deserve the compliment "You have some skill!!"
    – Hudjefa
    Sep 9, 2023 at 11:18

1 Answer 1


Your questions are broad and vague. In general, yes, he was an advocate for the “state policy” of maximal freedom, including freedom of “ thought and expression.” Globally, he believed “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised [by the state] over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others:”

The object of this Essay [On Liberty] is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. (From On Liberty, chapter 1 .)

As for your second question, it is not likely that Mill would have claimed that “all speech is ethically positive.” Rather, he would have said that ON BALANCE (and, remember he was a utilitarian), the right of an individual to express herself ethically outweighs the right of others/another to silence the expression:

Let us suppose...that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion [silencing expression], either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. 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. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But 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. (From On Liberty, chapter 2 .)

You cam find On Liberty, Chapters 1 (Introduction) and 2 (Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion) here: . https://www.sjsu.edu/people/james.lindahl/courses/Hum2B/s2/JSMill-On-Liberty-Chs-1.pdf

And the full essay here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm#Page_1

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