“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a
man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time there took place a memorable collision. … while we know him as the head and
prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the
lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, … This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived—whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen,
after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in deny-
ing the gods recognised by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the
Apologia) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his
doctrines and instructions, a “corruptor of youth.” Of these charges the
tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty,
and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved
best of mankind to be put to death as a criminal (p. 25).
though we do not now inflict so much evil
on those who think differently from us as it was formerly our custom to
do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment
of them. Socrates was put to death, but the Socratic philosophy rose like
the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination over the whole intellectual
firmament. Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian church
grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less
vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade. Our merely social
intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to dis-
guise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion (p.31).
When there are persons to be found who form an
exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if
the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have
something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would
lose something by their silence (p.46).
We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of
mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of
opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct
grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for
aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very
commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or
prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is
only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth
has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole
truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but,
fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of
its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere
formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground,
and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from
reason or personal experience.
Mill, John Stuart. 1867. On Liberty. Longmans, Green & Company.