Speech, truth and liberty: Bentham to John Stuart Mill

Peter Niesen
2019 Journal of Bentham Studies  
Bentham's Utilitarianism transforms earlier free speech doctrine in the service of the pursuit of truth and the control of government, preserving the distinction between statements of opinion and of fact and awarding the latter a lesser degree of protection. The work of James Mill and the early writings of John Stuart Mill retain this distinction, but their accounts are weighed down by the problems of a direct Utilitarian approach, in their consequentialist balancing of different values against
more » ... each other, and in their dependence on a majoritarian epistemology and their commitment to a naive progressive optimism. Mill goes on in On Liberty to address and resolve these problems on the basis of a new justification for free speech as free deliberative thought. I argue that, contrary to most interpretations, his new justification leaves untouched the basic distinction between absolutely protected expressions of opinion and only functionally and contingently protected assertions of fact, leaving room for restrictions on factual statements, especially when untrue.
doi:10.14324/111.2045-757x.046 fatcat:b6h3pq55efgtrnetvvci7cp7pa