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Book/On Liberty

Personal collection of quotes with notes from John Stuart Mill’sOn Liberty

John Stuart Mill — On Liberty

Prove me wrong!

“Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth…; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right. The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfoudned.” — John Stuart Mill.

You can’t prefer your belief to that of your adversaries if you refuse even to give them a hearing.

“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of 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 on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspesion of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side which he feels most inclination.” — John Stuart Mill.

You are in no position to suppress someone’s opinion for others, except if you’re omniscient (i.e. god).

“Those who desire to suppress [an opinion], of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging.…All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” — John Stuart Mill.

Even if one is convinced ones opinion is true, frequent and fearless discussion is necessary.

“However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth. Not only the grounds of the opinion are forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the meaning of the opinion itself. The words which convey it, cease to suggest ideas, or suggest only a small portion of those they were originally employed to communicate. Instead of a vivid conception and a living belief, there remain only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer essence being lost.” — John Stuart Mill.

The human propensity is toward exaggeration, which if left unchecked, will harden into a lie.

“There is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being exaggerated into falsehood.” — John Stuart Mill.

The devil’s advocate does you a great service by being fanatically committed to prove you wrong. He consequently invests the whole of his being in scrutinizing every piece of evidence, not taking the minutest point for granted, passing a fine-tooth comb through each detail, until, in his monomanaical zeal to expose an error, he inevitably stumbles up one. (N.Finkelstein - I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it! p.418)

“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.” — John Stuart Mill.

Thus far from suppressing deniers, one should be greatful to them for - however unwittingly - facilitating the quest for truth.

“If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is someone to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labor for ourselves.” — John Stuart Mill.

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