The idea of Freedom of Expression is recognized as a fundamental right in the construction of the United States constitution. For centuries, philosophers have presented their viewpoints and rationalities on how the idea of freedom of expression should be handled and what qualities this right should embrace. Philosophers Ronald Dworkin and John Stuart Mill have both presented personal thoughts on the rationalization of liberty of expression, and why it is imperative that we as a society defend this right. Ronald Dworkin and John Stuart Mill both present similar ideas when focusing on this subject, stating that it is a vital aspect to the success of society, but also have differing viewpoints on whether these rights should be controlled in certain situations. Ronald Dworkin supports a society where speech is almost completely uninhibited and should only be limited within an extreme extenuating circumstance. However, while he fully supports the idea of freedom of speech, John Stuart Mill also supports his thought of the “Harm Principle”, and the idea that free speech should not infringe upon it and should be controlled if it does.
Unlike the ideas of Dworkin, John Stewart Mill presents the ideas of situations which need to be controlled in every day circumstances; and while he supports the overall idea of freedom of speech, he recognizes the management which is required when the rights of one are affected by the actions of another, in due course creating a system that is superior to that of Dworkin’s in the role of society, while ultimately achieving the same goal of freedom of expression. John Stuart Mill is often recognized as the “Most influential English speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century”, and he made massive contributions to the ideas of social theory, political theory, and political economy. In Mill’s work On Liberty, he touches on the ideas of the rights of the common man, and limits of the power that the society can exercise upon him. John Stuart Mill gives an instrumental justification for the protection of the liberty of expression for a multitude of reasons. One of these main reasons is the idea of a free marketplace of ideas or the idea of the truth prevailing above all. Mill presents this idea by stating that the protection of freedom of speech for all within the society fosters a culture where growth and social justice is promoted.
John Stuart Mill’s ideals follow that of a strict Utilitarian sort, focusing on the greatest good for the greatest number and the overall welfare of the society, rather than the individual rights of one within the society. Mill makes an assumption that most people are open minded, rational, and motivated by the truth which will lead to the overall contribution and clarification of the truth within society. However, Mill also recognizes those who will contribute false ideals, but he views these as a means for one to ensure their own correct truths or “Living Truths” are correct and that they are not “Dead Dogmas”. Along with his view on a Utilitarian society, Mill also presents his idea of the “Harm Principle” and how this specific principle prevents the views or rights of one to overpower the overall welfare of the society. While John Stuart Mill takes a Utilitarian stance on the subject of the protection of liberty, Ronald Dworkin favors a more constitutive view as opposed to the instrumental view that Mill presents.
While Ronald Dworkin and John Stuart Mill both agree on the importance of the protection of liberty of expression, Dworkin presents different principles on why and how these rights should be protected. While Mill is concerned with the overall wellbeing of his society, Dworkin is more concerned with the welfare of specific citizens and the fact that their own personal rights are protected as individuals. Dworkin finds Mill’s instrumental justification insufficient due to the fact that these laws are not focused on the individuals specifically, but they are motivated by the benefit of society as a whole. Dworkin feels that by basing the right of free speech on the concept of the wellbeing of society, it creates situations where the freedom of individuals is infringed upon and that cannot be justified. Ronal Dworkin is solely concerned with the individual liberty and does not share the Utilitarian viewpoints that attribute to John Stuart Mill’s concepts. In Dworkin’s piece Liberty and Moralism states that it is an “essential constitutive feature of a just political society that government treat all competent adult members as responsible moral agents”, which implies the idea that Dworkin feels that society must be allowed to make up their own opinions and not be swayed by the majority or what society feels is correct.
Ronald Dworkin also defends this major ideal when he presents the case of Lord Devlin, and the action of enforcing moral traditions upon society for the greater good. Dworkin defends the idea of things that may be perceived as immoral by society such as pornography and homosexuality; stating that people within a society must be able to “form their own convictions out of their own moral responsibility”. Dworkin ultimately defends the justification of free speech for the right within the scope of an individual and not the benefit of the society as a whole. In conclusion, while Dworkin may defend the individual liberty of expression directly, John Stuart Mill is concerned with the welfare of the society as a whole. John Stuart Mill is concerned with those who may not be “responsible moral agents” and who may try to infringe on the rights of others which Dworkin does not assess.
John Stuart Mill perceives most of society as rational good people but also recognizes that when the actions of one infringe upon the freedom of another, those actions need to be controlled, whereas Dworkin feels that the individual rights of this person supersede the stability and welfare of the society as a whole. John Stuart Mill recognizes that to have a successful society, the rights of individuals must be protected, but the moment that they become a detriment to others within that society, it must be dealt with which is where the harm principle is implemented. Ultimately, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian viewpoints contribute to a society as a whole, and not just the rights of an individual which protects the individuals from the actions of each other while creating a successful open society.