On Liberty (1859) John Stuart Mill

Or, how people come to actually understand anything at all

Makes the case for liberty of ideas, opinions, what can be said, and what can be done, except that which infringes on the liberty of others. We cannot do things which harm other people. Likewise, things which infringe on others can enter the sphere of things which could be regulated by the government (I.e. going naked in public). Freedom of expression and action is necessary so that we are able to continue progress as a species. We expand upon ideas, what is right, by having opinions, and discussing those opinions with others; it is in this manner that we ascertain what is true, and what is false, and progress is made. To limit the expression of others is to assume our own infallibility of judgment, that we know everything, we are absolutely certain. History shows us that many once held “certainties” have been deemed false, absurd, or both. We cannot limit even one person’s expression, for it infringes on liberty, and without liberty, there can be no progress, and we are thus made inhuman; merely animals existing. If we do not question and understand dogma, it is just dogma, and it does not enter our life as a way to conduct oneself because we do not understand it; in this manner, Biblical teachings, understood as “truths,” are not lived day-to-day by many considering themselves to be pious Christians. It is ones duty to understand both sides of an argument, understood without prejudice to dismiss the opposing side outright. Intelligent people suffer more confirmation bias than anyone, turning off the possibility to their being any shred of truth in an opposing viewpoint, and vigorously seeking out support for ones own. Ideas can only express so much of something without taking action on those ideas, to affirm or deny the truth of the matter. Original minds and people of genius are chastised by those who are unoriginal and simple; the normal classes with no inclination to do anything unusual do not understand those who would, and thusly condemn and look down upon them. “Why is my dogma not good enough for you.” But it is these people and their existence that leads to the progress of civilization. Just government tells these people who wish to limit others liberty to mind their own business. Makes the case that truth is necessarily not a zero sum game; maybe some elements of truth come from one side, maybe some from another. Even in disproving what we believe to be wrong, we gain a greater understanding of what we believe to be right. Respect for liberty is important so that government influence is not used to exercise desires or fears of particular groups; self-interest, whether it is or is not rational. For experience to be properly understood, people must be able to discuss it, and evaluate how to interpret it. The idea of the “devil’s advocate” is that one cannot be admitted to heaven until all that the devil has to say about them is known and weighed. Fear of heresy cramps mental development, people’s capacity for reason, and infantilizes humanity; history’s advances would not have been allowed (I.e. Galileo, the enlightenment, etc.) If you do not understand two sides of an argument inside and out, and why “your” side is true, you do not understand your own opinion, and it is dogma. “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” “In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall [understand]… what is fit to be preserved from what out to be swept away.” The origin of dignity, honor, morality, is derived from human experience, and could not have come out of obedience to dogma alone. “If Christians would teach infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves be just to infidelity.” We should “[have] calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor. This is the real morality of public discussion.” If there is nothing new to be done, what is the point of human intellect. “Persons of genius are… [incapable of]… fitting themselves… into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character.” The average man has the capacity can respond to wise things, and can follow initiative if his eyes are open to it. “That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.” A lack of open opinions and actions saps energy out of arguments, and makes the people docile. “There is not scarcely any outlet for energy in this country except business.” People are not all alike; people are different, and thoughts and conduct should not be made uniform, or how are we human. “if [man] spoils his life by mismanagement, we shall not, for that reason, desire to spoil it still further: instead of wishing to punish him, we shall rather endeavor to alleviate his punishment, by showing him how he may avoid or cure the evils his conduct tends to bring upon him” Raises the nature of disagreements over which meats may be allowed to be eaten, as prescribed by religions, as one of the most basic disagreements where passions flare. Should a “bad workman” receive the same wage as one who is more skilled? The good workman produces a product which is more useful. Mill asserts that “social rights” would usurp everyone of their liberty; there is no right to any freedom whatsoever, as anything could be construed as being a noxious offence of said social rights (I.e. those things which make society weaker, demoralized, disorderly, or inegalitarian). Government may interfere to stop fraud and force; trade is an inherently social activity. Free trade is just because it produces the best result (vs. Restrictions on trade, says Mill). Mill makes the argument it does not infringe on someone’s liberty to grab them to keep them falling into a river when it is his aim to walk on a bridge he does not know is broken (this seems to open some area in his argument for the welfare state?). He justifies many forms of taxation and regulation, I.e. licensing bars to ensure the peace is maintained by the bars’ keepers. Parents are responsible to educate their offspring; if they do not, the state has the authority to step in (but not that the state should administer it). State-led education “establishes a despotism over the mind” insofar as it reinforces the predominant power of government. ”The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life.” The state may prevent acts injurious to others, which is having children when one is not capable to care for them.

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Underconsumed Knowledge

Underconsumed Knowledge

"For the time being I gave up writing -- there is already too much truth in the world -- an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!" Otto Rank, 1933