The Philosophy Resource

Teaching resources for philosophy students and teachers

What do different philosophers think?

A. Instrumentalist justifications

Baruch Spinoza

‘Wholly repugnant to the general freedom are such devices as enthralling men’s minds with prejudices, forcing their judgment, or employing any of the weapons of quasi religious sedition; indeed, such seditions only spring up, when law enters the domain of speculative thought, and opinions are put on trial and condemned on the same footing as crimes, while those who defend and follow them are sacrificed, not to public safety, but to their opponents’ hatred and cruelty… Now, seeing that we have the rare happiness of living in a republic, where everyone’s judgment is free and unshackled, where each may worship God as his conscience dictates, and where freedom is esteemed before all things dear and precious, I have believed that I should be undertaking no ungrateful or unprofitable task, in demonstrating that not only can such freedom be granted without prejudice to the public peace, but also, that without such freedom, piety cannot flourish nor the public peace be secure.’

B. Spinoza (1670), Theologico-Political Treatise. R.H.M.Elwes (trans.)
John Stuart Mill

‘Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error from truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

J.S.Mill, ‘On Liberty’ (1859), Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Essay on Bentham, Mary Warnock (ed.) (Glasgow: Collins, 1979), pp.142-3
John Dewey

There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences that concern it. Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs. Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed.’

J. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, (1927) The Later Works vol2, J.A.Boydston (ed.) (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1985) p.167

B. Rights-based justifications

John Locke

‘The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light.’

J. Locke ‘Letter Concerning Toleration’ (1685/1689) Locke on Toleration, M. Silverthone (trans.) Richard Vernon (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
John Rawls

‘Now to be sure, an intolerant man will say that he acts in good faith and that he does not ask anything for himself that he denies to others. His view, let us suppose, is that he is acting on the principle that God is to be obeyed and the truth be accepted by all. The principle is perfectly general and by acting on it he is not making an exception in his own case….. The reply to this defense is that, from the standpoint of the original position, no particular interpretation of religious truth can be acknowledged as binding upon citizens generally…. Each person must insist upon an equal right to decide what his religious obligations are.’

J. Rawls (1973) A Theory of Justice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973) p.217.
Ronald Dworkin

‘If freedom of speech is a basic right, this must be so not in virtue of instrumental arguments, like Mill’s, which suppose that liberty is important because of its consequences. It must be so for reasons of basic principle. We can find that basic principle, moreover. We can find it in a condition of human dignity: it is illegitimate for governments to impose a collective or official decision on dissenting individuals, using the coercive powers of the state, unless that decision has been taken in a manner that respects each individual’s status as a free and equal member of the community. People who believe in democracy think that it is fair to use police power to enforce the law if the law has been adopted through democratic political procedures that express the majority’s will. But though majoritarian procedures may be a necessary condition of political legitimacy, they are not a sufficient condition. Fair democracy requires what we might call a democratic background: it requires, for example, that every competent adult have a vote in deciding what the majority’s will is. And it requires, further, that each citizen have not just a vote but a voice: a majority decision is not fair unless everyone has had a fair opportunity to express his or her attitudes or opinions or fears or tastes or presuppositions or prejudices or ideals, not just in the hope of influencing others, though that hope is crucially important, but also just to confirm his or her standing as a responsible agent in, rather than a passive victim of, collective action.’

R. Dworkin, ‘A New Map of Censorship’, Index on Censorship 1994, 23:1-2, pp.9-15, p.11
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