Mill's "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion"

HMXP 102

Dr. Fike



You may want to assign these words to groups and ask them to come up with definitions or to explain the words in context.


1.  MAIN POINTS:  According to JSM, why is liberty of expression important?  See the summary on page 36, column 1.  It will be important to review the key passage with the class, establish a list of the four points that Mill is making, and ensure that everyone has these points in mind before you go further.

2.  PASSAGE:  Here is a great passage to study with the class:  page 34, column 2 to page 35, column 1: 

3.  GROUP ACTIVITY:  Once you have helped the class understand the previous questions, you might try a group activity related to dogmas.

4.  PERSONAL APPLICATION:  Have you "inherited" or "adopted" your dogmas?  Accordingly, are they "dead dogma[s]" (see page 34, right column)?  Or do you believe that a dogma can be inherited but still full of life (a "living truth")?  (You get the metaphorical nature of Mill's language here, right?)  How can we be confident that we are embracing the Truth and not just another dogma?

5.  CONNECTIONS:  Can you make any connections to Plato's cave dwellers?  Are dogmas what Plato would call "bonds"?   Can a dogma be good as well as bad?  Do dogmas function in the same way as Lakoff's metaphors in regard to reality--namely, keeping us from apprehending the truth directly?  If you had to draw circles to show the relationship between dogma and truth, what would your circles look like?

6.  CENSORSHIP:  Is censorship ever appropriate?  What is Mill's opinion on this issue?  See especially page 33 and his discussion of "temperate" debate on page 36.  What would Mill make of Ward Churchill?  Using Mill's principles (summarized on page 36), how would you analyze Churchill's remarks?  Consider also Mill's statements about "intemperate" remarks.

7.  ARGUMENT:  What argumentative strategies does Mill oppose on page 36?  What fallacies does he identify?  Have a look at our fallacies handout as you prepare your slide show.

8.  HUMAN NATURE:  What does Mill suggest about human nature?  Answering this question will require close reading.  Here are some hints:  We tend to receive opinions ______________.  We succumb to _______________________ (two words).  We think in ________ terms.  Human nature is _____________.

9.  TRUTH:  What position does Mill take on truth?  Hints:  It is a ____________ process.  It is NOT an ____________; it is a ____________.  And "____________ experience" is an important element in active learning.


From the GNED website:


Activity:  Discussion Questions

1.  Do you agree with Millís assertion that a more enlightened society, one that better knows the truth, is a better society?  Why or why not?

2.  What, generally speaking, does Mill think is the best way to pursue better knowledge of the truth?

3.  What is the importance of humility in Millís [text]?

4.  What does Millís discussion suggest about the role of religious belief in society?  Does Millís analysis help you think more clearly about any current social or political issues?

5.  Millís [text] seems to suggest an ongoing clash of competing ideas.  Is that the kind of society that we have?  What seems good about that kind of society?  What might be some of the problems of this kind of competitive society?