[Answered] What is John Stuart Mill’s idea on freedom of thought and expression? Also discuss Mill’s views on representative democracy.


Demand of the question

Introduction. What is John Stuart Mill’s idea on freedom of thought and expression?

Body. Discuss Mill’s views on representative democracy.

Conclusion. Way forward.


John Stuart Mill was a political thinker and an activist of the 19th century in Britain. He was one of the foremost believers in and practitioners of Utilitarianism, a system of thought that essentially declared an action to be proper if it was beneficial to the largest portion of society. In his essay, On Liberty, he is adamant that the preservation of individual liberty rests largely on protecting freedom of thought no matter how egregious or immoral and, by extension, the freedom to express oneself based on that thought.


Stuart Mill’s idea on freedom of thought and expression:

  1. The Harm Principle: According to this, state is only allowed to limit an individual’s liberty for the sake of preventing that person from harming others. Mill seeks to show that society should never suppress opinions unreasonably.
  2. Freedom of expression: He offered four reasons why there should be freedom of expression even for those who espouse ideas that appear false or misleading today:
  3. No idea is completely false: What appears to us as false has an element of truth. If we ban false ideas, we would lose that element of truth that they contain.
  4. Truth does not emerge by itself: It is only through a conflict of opposing view that truth emerges.
  5. Trustworthiness: Thirdly, it is only when an idea is exposed to opposing views that we can be sure that this idea is trustworthy.
  6. Suppression: Very often ideas that were considered false at one point by the entire society and therefore suppressed turned out to be true later on. A society that completely suppresses all ideas that are not acceptable today, runs the danger of losing the benefits of what might turn out to be very valuable knowledge.
  7. Man as a progressive being: Mill argues that the freedom of thought and expression will contribute to the permanent interests of man as a progressive being and to discover and know what is true is in our interests.
  8. Develop rational thinking: According to him, freedom helps us to develop rational thinking and intellectual faculties and makes us open-minded and thoughtful.
  9. Challenging hypocrisy: According to Mill, freedom helps in challenging hypocrisy, intellectual lethargy and leads to self-satisfaction. Public censure undermines intellectual courage and slows down the discovery of truth.
  10. Essential for meaningful life: He considered liberty of conscience, liberty to express and publish one’s opinions, liberty to live as one pleased and freedom of association as essential for a meaningful life and for the pursuit of one’s own good.


Mill’s views on representative democracy:

  1. Utilitarianism: According to his utilitarian principle, greatest happiness means happiness of the greatest number as represented in democracy.
  2. Direct democracy not feasible: According to Mill, in a country with a large population, direct democracy is not feasible, so a democratic government should be a representative democracy.
  3. Means to achieve the liberty of thought: He considered democracy as a sole means to achieve the end of the liberty of thought, expression and action, which, in turn, would develop, enrich and expand the personality of individuals in fullness.
  4. Certain prerequisite for democracy: According to Mill, there are certain prerequisite for democracy and democracy without a democratic culture results into a ‘False Democracy’. For instance, democracy is only applicable where people are matured enough to develop a democratic culture.
  5. Mobocracy: Mill recognized that democracy can be transformed into tyranny of majority or mobocracy based on the numerical strength of the least educated class. To overcome this, Mill suggested reforms such as proportional representations, plural voting and women franchise.
  6. Liberal individualism: According to him, a representative government encourages individuality and liberal individualism with tendency to foster self-development and individuality.
  7. Participation: According to Mill, democracy leads people to take a more active and intelligent participation in society and encourages the development of natural human sympathies.
  8. Not applicable to all: Mill did not consider representative democracy being applicable for all societies like uncivilized and barbaric societies were suitable for despotic rule.


According to Mill, individuality means power or capacity for critical enquiry and responsible thought. It means self-development and the expression free will. He stressed total liberty of conscience, belief and expression as they were crucial to human development.

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