Freedom of expression refers to the right to express one’s opinions or thoughts freely by utilizing any of the different modes of communication available. The ideas aired should, however, not cause any intentional harm to other personality or status through false or ambiguous statements. Communication of ideas can be achieved through speech, writing or art. Freedom of expression, unlike freedom of thought, may be regulated by the appropriate authorities in any society in order to avoid controversies between different individuals.
The extent to which this limitation or censorship is done varies from nation to nation and is dependent on the government of the day. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has the right to search for information, access and impart variety of ideas irrespective of the frontiers.
The subject of freedom of expression has always been controversial, especially when considering political aspects. A state is perceived to have the mandate to impede people from convening groups in which they air their opinions if those views can result in direct harm to other people.
However, the interference would only be an exception if doing so results in more beneficial outcomes than standing aside. For one to be in a position to gauge the eventuality of a gain or a loss, then there should be absolute freedom of expression on all matters irrespective of the nature of the sentiments made.
Arguments for absolute freedom of expression can be a made by evaluating the purpose for which the ideas are expressed and the manner in which we evaluate what is true or false. According to Mill (Eisenach, 2004), the right to express one’s opinions offers humanity a rare chance to switch over an error for the truth if the idea expressed happens to be true.
In case the opinion happens to be wrong, mankind stands a chance of getting a clearer picture of the known truth through collusion with a mistake. Therefore, freedom of expression acts in the best interests of mankind as it endeavors to progress and its limitation deprives people of the prospects of growth.
Whether we let expression of an opinion to be limited or censored, whereas it could be true, then we present ourselves as beyond reproach. We consider all that we know to be the truth and therefore dispel all opinions that question this truth. It is possible for people or authorities to be in fault. For instance, what we consider to be morally right or wrong may not be so.
The lines that define moral rights and wrongs were set by people who could possibly have mistaken. In order to draw the limit, one must differentiate between sureness and the truth. Our certainty that a particular idea is false does not in any way excuse its expression. Suppressing such an idea would not only justify our confidence of the opinion being wrong, but also proves that we are flawless.
If limitation of people’s freedom of expression in matters such as racism is based on certainty that mankind does not stand to lose any benefit, then this sureness should be founded in the freedom itself. We can only consider ourselves to be certain when there have been no opinions raised to question the truths we hold. Therefore, in order to boost our certainty, we have to leave room for the opposing beliefs.
There are governments that censor the expression of certain ideas not because they are false, but because they are considered to be hazardous to the society. Mill argues that in such a situation, the hazard in the expressed opinions is questionable. The only way to ascertain that the opinion is in fact dangerous is not to suppress its expression but to allow its free discussion.
Secondly, if the opinion that is being limited is true, then the alternative view held by the government must be false. Experience has shown that all beliefs that are false are never constructive in the long run. Therefore, the government that prefers to hold a false conviction in place of a hazardous truth does not act in the best interests of its people.
In many instances, the silenced view may be a mistake. However, most of these mistakes do carry with them a scrap of truth. On the other hand, the existing view on each of the different topics often does not contain the entire truth. By listening to the opinions of others on the matter, an opportunity to learn the rest of the uncovered truths presents itself.
For instance in politics, we could have two political parties with different agendas. One wants to institute reforms while another desires to ensure stability. People may not be in a position to discern what should be retained or altered, but ensuring the parties at opposing ends ensures each party checks on the performance of the other. In the long run, we strike for a beneficial balance between their supposed agendas (Bhargava, 2008).
Moreover, if the opinion being expressed is entirely true, it may not be considered so with certainty. For confidence to feature, these views must be contested against other rational opinions of others in order to single out the supporting arguments. It is expected that those who believe in their opinions will place strong arguments in their favor (Matravers, 2001).
If an authority believes in the rationality of its ideas, then it should leave room for the expression of opposing ideas. For instance, if any reigning political party has faith in the views it has concerning the development of the country’s economy, it should not be wary of an opposition party with contradicting views. After all what they stand for has factual backing (O’Rourke, 2001).
Lastly, the battle for supremacy between different opinions opens up a more comprehensive understanding of our beliefs. We begin to comprehend what is required of us and are, thus, in a position to act on them. Human beliefs do not exhibit any motivation and the debates that arise are what add fuel to the fire.
Holding beliefs with a conservative mindset only serves to hinder our acceptance of the possible alternatives (Jones, 2001). Therefore, opposition exhibited in the freedom of speech opens up a lee way for open-mindedness besides posing a challenge to hypocrisy and logical sluggishness.
The absence of restrictions on people’s freedom of oppression allows for the exchange of error for truth or the clarification of the existing truth. It also reinforces our certainty in the opinions we consider true besides increasing our open-mindedness and thoughtfulness. For governments, it ensures those entrusted with the leadership of the country have reasonable opinions that work for the common good of the country’s citizens.
Free discussion and analysis of different ideas will, thus, result in the prosperity of mankind rather than the detrimental effects it is assumed to bring.
Bhargava, H. (2008). Political Theory: An Introduction. Delhi: Pearson Education
Eisenach, E. (2004). Mill and Moral Character. New York: Penn State Press.
Jones, T. (2001). Modern Political Thinkers and Ideas: An Historical Introduction. New York: Routledge.
Matravers, D. (2001) Reading Political Philosophy: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Routledge.
O’Rourke, K. (2001). John Stuart Mill and Freedom of Expression: The Genesis of a Theory. Connecticut: Taylor & Francis.