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J.S. Mill’s Thoughts On Opinions Linked to 1492

March 28, 2011

J.S. Mill presents some thought-provoking ideas about pursuing opinions. He explains that it is man’s obligation to act on his opinion. He continues to explain how, “To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same as absolute certainty,” (601). After reading this quote, I instantly thought of Christopher Columbus. Back in the 15th century, Columbus thought the world was round and that he could reach the East by sailing west to get to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands in order to bring back valuable resources. However, Columbus did not propose his ideas until he did extensive research to confirm that the world was round. This supports Mill’s claim that, “It is the duty of governments, and of individuals, to form the truest opinions they can; to form them carefully, and never impose them upon others unless they are quite sure of being right,” (601). This is exactly what Christopher Columbus did prior to presenting his ideas.

After asking Portugal’s King John II for money and ships for his voyage, he got turned away and was told that his ideas were ridiculous. Since the accepted belief was that the world was flat, everyone thought Columbus was crazy. At first, he received the same rejection from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Eventually King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decided to financially back his voyage. As a result, the world discovered that this planet is in fact round. This also proves Mill’s suggestion that we should follow our opinions, “…because other people, in less enlightened times, have persecuted opinions now believed to be true,” (601). So after viewing how, despite the rejection from the public, Christopher Columbus stayed with his opinion that the world is round, we can model this course of action with our own opinions.



  1. jasonkraman permalink
    March 28, 2011 9:46 PM

    I would agree with you in your connection of Mill to Columbus. Mill would obviously support Columbus because he believes that even wrong opinions have value in our society due to the fact that no truths are infallible. He would applaud King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for eventually allowing their accepted opinion to be challenged in order to either strengthen their convictions or learn further. I think this is an insightful look at how Mill’s philosophy can be utilized in differing areas of study.

  2. Robert Tepper permalink
    March 30, 2011 4:17 PM

    I definitely agree with the connection between Mill and Columbus. Mill understood way before his time the value of unpopular opinions and viewpoints. He knew that stifling such opinions and passing them off as false without proper research would be detrimental to society. I believe that Columbus’s voyage is one of many examples in history that show how imperative it is to pursue our beliefs regardless of what other people say. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella eventually gave Columbus a chance to prove his point, and the world is more educated as a result.

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