On Liberty of Opinions

By Jeremy Gulley

Since President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie on December 6th, I have received many emails and heard many opinions from people on both sides of the political spectrum. It seems that everyone has something to say about the President’s visit and the ideas he presented, and find it necessary to share that opinion whether it is asked for or not.

The emails and comments I have received have been, on a whole, vehement and one-sided – meaning they were void of any acknowledgment that there could be perfectly acceptable arguments for the opposite position. The lack of intellectual curiosity or room for discussion has been disturbing. The emails, especially, have been full of hate and condemnation.

As I read through the emails I was reminded of J.S. Mill’s treatise “On Liberty,” which was published in 1859. In the treatise, which is mainly his argument that man should be free from the tyranny of government, both morally and economically, Mill also discusses the sharing of opinions as it relates to mental freedom.

Mill argues that “To call any proposition certain, while there is anyone who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.”

Mill here says that it is one thing to have an opinion, but yet another to feel the need to share that opinion, especially if the person has not taken the time to really think about the other side of the argument and considered that the opinion just might be wrong.

If asked, all of us would admit that we are fallible. None of us are perfect, yet none of us consider the fact that our opinions might be part of our fallibility. It seems that we just want to spout off what we think in the hopes that other people will see the brilliance that we have to offer.

Most people have opinions. Many people share their opinions. Few people allow for their opinions to be wrong and listen to the ideas of others. It is vitally important to allow for discussion in our ideas, otherwise we have no chance of real understanding, which should be the goal.

As Mill points out, “it is the opinions men entertain, and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom.” Mental freedom, then, is only possible when we allow for a discourse regarding our opinions rather than stubbornly digging in and refusing to budge.

I am not asking that we stop sharing our opinions. I am asking that we dial down the hate and try to find our way into true dialogue. Opinions are, after all, opinions. If we not only share our

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Posted by admin on Dec 23 2011. Filed under Jeremy Gulley, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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