The Internet also known as the information superhighway of the world, is increasingly becoming the most prevalent form in which to gather and distribute information. This issue brings up a number of moral dilemmas concerning the lack of censorship and editorial monitoring in this immense communication system. Some of the questions that have arisen are whether or not freedom of speech should be controlled, to an extent, and if so where would those barriers be drawn.
Also, should the truth behind Internet publications be monitored, access to inappropriate material be denied to certain individuals, and should laws be passed to prevent the exploitation of unknowing bystanders. These issues are not only controversial but also extremely complicated to pursue through legal terms and justifications. The First Amendment of the Constitution grants everyone in the United States the freedom of speech and press, thus the Internet phenomenon is protected regardless of the perverse nature which it is capable of presenting.
Ultimately, it is possible for anyone to express his or her own beliefs, whether considered true or not, through the Internet. This in turn leads many unsuspecting youths and even some adults to believe the lies they read just because it is out there. John Stuart Mills work, On Liberty explains Mills notion of freedom and his justifications behind his concepts. This work was originally published in 1859 but due to its advanced theories it is possible to apply these conceptions to the moral dilemmas the Internet possess.
Mills philosophies are considered utilitarianistic, this means that the value something possesses is determined by its utility, also actions should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the largest group of people. With this in mind we can further understand Mills theories on liberty, freedom and whether they should be controlled. Mills explains that freedom of speech and expression are essential to the mental well being of mankind. To refuse a person the right to express their opinion because it is contrary to popular belief would be a great wrong.
This is because without these different opinions there would be no need to justify those beliefs held widely. Lack of practice in explaining the attributes of certain beliefs will make them forgotten and these truths would lose meaning. Mills clarifies a misconception about truths with the following statement: truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces (33). As can be seen Mills believes that truths are just as likely to fade away if the proper attention and justifications behind them are not obtained.
Also, to decline someones right to express themselves would be belittling this individuals ideas and holding their own as the highest and most righteous. This can be seen in the statement he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defense. he assumes infallibility (29). This clearly expresses Mills theory that if a person censors someone else he is claiming to be at a higher moral level. Similarly, Mills illustrates the importance of having various opinions in society even if some of these beliefs are false.
This is because even lies and inconsistencies contain some underlying truths. In the same fashion Mills describes the possibility that those things considered false are really hidden truths. Thus, by censoring or forbidding an opinion from being expressed the result might actually be harmful to society as a whole. Mills states: If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person , than he, if he had the power, would e justified in silencing mankind (20).
Therefore, Mills believes that regardless of how many people hold a certain opinion the right to express this thought should be granted to all. Mills furthers his analysis of liberty not only with logical explanations but also historical and empirical examples. He strengthens his points by giving the examples of Socrates, Jesus and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. All these men were persecuted because they ardently expressed their opinion even though it was contrary to the beliefs of the majority.
Had these men not courageously gone against the restrictions in speech that society had placed history would have been at a great loss. Mills believes that society should grant all individuals the liberty and freedom of speech and similarly the press. He argues against the common standings that some limits should regulate this freedom by stating the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed. He further argues that with all these opinions around men are to choose what they believe to be most correct.
This can be seen by the statement, Judgment is given to men that they may use it (23). Using these arguments and justifications we can see that Mills actively debated for liberty to the highest degree. Ultimately, Mills argues against censorship and for complete freedom of speech. Relating these theories to the Internet and the moral problems it poses we can see that Mills would have been content with the positive aspects it possess. The Internet makes it possible for large amounts of information to be available quickly and efficiently.
The problems it has can be resolved individually, for example, if a certain website is offensive and does not contain many of the beliefs a certain individual holds then it is that persons right to use his best judgment to leave the site. When it comes to more complicated issues like the invasion of peoples privacy by placing them on the Internet without their consent I believe Mills would consider this wrong because it invades the liberty of the other individual to keep his life private.
However, the good the Internet does surpasses the bad and using a utilitarian perspective I believe Mills would have framed this issue in a matter of its benefits and unfavorable aspects. Thus, although the Internet poses some moral questions I believe that Mills would have been content with the Internet as a whole. I agree with Mills theories and believe he is extremely persuasive in his arguments.