Tuesday, October 26, 2010

John Stuart Mill reacts to NPR's firing of Juan Williams...


On Liberty (1859)

...Coercion is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, then 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.

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 collision with error.

To refuse a hearing to [Juan Williams'] opinion, because [NPR] is sure it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

The only way a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of the mind.

The price paid for [NPR's] intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep their general principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world.

Whatever people believe, on subjects of which it is of the first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections.

He who knows only his side of the case, knows little at that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons of the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion...