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Mill on False Facts

April 18, 2011

Mill supports freedom of speech and suggests that all opinions are valuable in the search for truth. He feels that it is the duty of citizens to state opinions whether they are certain these ideas are true or not. If there is a free flow of thought and communication in a society, then truth can be realized. No truth can exist unless it has been proved true.
So we know how Mill feels freedom of speech but how would he feel about freedom of speech in which someone states an opinion as fact and is well aware that said fact is untrue, or is aware that their statement has not been researched?
For example how would Mill respond to Jon Kyl’s false claim about Planned Parenthood?

While Kyl claims that 90% of planned parenthood’s services are abortions, the actual percentage is 3%. When asked how he could make a claim off by 87%, Kyl said that his statement was not meant to be factual but instead was meant to prove a point.
Whether Kyl knew he was lying or not is irrelevant because regardless he was in the wrong. If he was aware his percentage was so vastly off and presented it as fact he is guilty of misleading citizens and is not aiding in the search for truth but instead making this quest more difficult. If Kyl was unaware his claim was false, he was certainly aware that his claim had not been researched and he had no basis for making a claim to which he had put no thought to.
Mill argues that freedom of speech is imperative to society and its development but I do not believe he would support making false claims to make a point (for that point is only proved false if its support is a total lie). Nor would Mill support making a claim that had not been researched. For Kyl to state an opinion about planned parenthood and its services is one thing and perhaps beneficial to the debate on abortion, but for him to falsely present percentages is wrong.
I am interested to see what you think about Kyl’s claims and how Mill would interpret them. Perhaps he would suggest that lying is not such a terrible offense and is beneficial in the search for truth? Bellow is a clip of Stephen Colbert and his interpretation of the situation.

One Comment
  1. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    April 19, 2011 10:39 PM

    I think that Mill would say that it is okay for the senator to blatantly lie about the fact, because like Mill says, all opinions are valuable, even the ones that aren’t true. Mill believes that while it is good to have correct opinions, sometimes it is better to be presented with wrong opinions, or in this case blatantly wrong and easily checkable facts, because it eventually leads to the right opinions/fact coming out. Because of the spread of new media and other forms of journalism, Senator Kyl wasn’t able to get away with his lie, because other news networks were able to fact check the situation, and even draw more attention to the lie (thus making the right opinion come out) with satirical shows such as The Colbert Show.

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