Mill’s second chapter in On Liberty is a fairly straightforward defense of the freedom of speech and public discussion. Truth, he believes, is best served by the free discussion of all ideas without any perspective being shut down. These circumstances refute false ideas, prevent the atrophy of the defense and understanding of true ideas, and, when the truth is parceled out between different ideas, allows for the whole truth to enter public discussion. Since we cannot assume our own infallibility, we must not decide which ideas cannot be discussed.
At the end of the last post, I raised the question of how Mill proposed to prevent society (not just the government) from shutting down liberty. Other than urging people to be truly open-minded and well-mannered in their discussions, he didn’t venture too far into this territory. I’m wondering if I may have made too much of this part of the first chapter. We shall see.
Probably the most notable part of this chapter was Mill’s evaluation of Christian morality. He contended that most Christians do not take their real values from the New Testament, but rather give them lip service, and also that the New Testament was not meant to pass on a comprehensive morality. Instead, it had holes that needed to be filled by other insights. The political ideas from the Greco-Roman tradition, for example, replace the “passive obedience” that he believes the New Testament commands towards political authorities. Mill seems to have a rather simplistic interpretation of Christianity, isolating the New Testament from the Old and ignoring or denigrating the Christian theological tradition that has tried to discern a complete Christian worldview.