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THE OPPOSING VIEW IS THE

FAILURE OF CRITICAL THOUGHT:


MODERN CENSORSHIP

Jonathan Walters
Philosophy: HZT 4UI
Ms. Kraft
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When thinking of censorship one may imagine profane words being taken out of music, the blurring of
nudity on the television, or the banning of books deemed 'obscene' by censors. If this is the totality of it
then censorship would merely be a trivial matter controlled by few and rarely affecting anyone
significantly, but it is much more important than that. Others, who are more radical than the common
person, might relate censorship to communism, dictatorships or just plain anti-freedom, but it not
simply a tool used by the evil either. By definition censorship is the control of the information and
ideas circulated within a society,1 though it is still more than that. It is the tent that keeps everyone
safe through even the worst of storms, the nails that hold together an otherwise shaky society, and an
essential element in the blueprint for the perfect community. Censorship is, amongst other things: the
protector of the vulnerable, the maintainer of order, and the basis upon which law is created. The
opposing side, which argues that censorship is a negative force and should be minimized, may appear
to have a few sound arguments but with careful thought it soon becomes clear that censorship can be a
great benefit to all.

Censorship is necessary to ensure the protection of a wide variety of people. It protects children by
shielding them from the dangerous, the damaging, and the inappropriate. An example of the dangerous
would be commercials promoting cigarettes. Kids are by nature curious about new things, so if they
continually see ads promoting 'the joys of smoking' there is a good chance they will want to try it for
themselves. To prevent them from getting addicted, and likely living a much more troublesome life, the
commercials must be censored. The damaging could be something as simple as not having the 'Warning
do not try this at home' disclaimer before a risky stunt is shown on TV. Sure common sense would tell
the average person that the stunt, if tried, will likely result in serious injury but as stated earlier kids are
naturally curious and will want to try it for themselves, especially if nothing tells them not to. The
1

"What Is Censorship?" Gilc.org. Global Internet Liberty Campaign, n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.

inappropriate includes video games in which murder is a main goal and movies in which distasteful
nudity is prominently featured. These are rightly censored to not be 'suitable for all ages,' even though
they do not cause any direct harm to the children, because they are simply unsuitable for those who are
too young and impressionable. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Plato recognizes the need for such
censorship (though pertaining to stories and not video games or movies as that was all that was
available at the time) as he writes in his book, The Republic, Let the censors receive any tale of fiction
which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the
authorized ones only.2 Though it is not only children whom are protected by the great force that is
censorship. A few noteworthy groups include ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and religious minorities.
The censorship of hate speech guards these groups from discrimination, thus increasing their feeling of
self-worth and so their overall success and contribution to society. Furthermore, a 2005 study revealed
that youth whom are victims of hate speech are 3.1 times more likely to be physically assaulted,3 so
censorship not only protects their mental and emotional well-being but their physical as well.
Interestingly, 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill thinks that censorship is harmful to minorities.
In his book On Liberty Mill writes, If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be
no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in
silencing mankind.4 The misconception Mill has is assuming that the group in charge is evil. If the
party in power is in fact good then it will be definitely justified when silencing the evil opposition.

Though Mill may have been misguided in that instance, he is correct when he admits that censorship is
key to the maintenance of a great society. In On Liberty Mill writes that when contemplating a land's
right to self-rule we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race
2
3

"Famous Plato Quotes." Philosophyparadise.com. N.p., 2006. Web. 28 May 2013.


"Victims of Hate Speech." Childtrendsdatabank.org. Child Trends, 2005. Web. 28 May 2013.

Ten, Chin Liew. "Chapter Eight: Freedom of Expression." Victorianweb.org. The Victorian Web, 25 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 May 2013.

itself may be considered as in its [infancy]. [Tyranny] is a legitimate mode of government in dealing
with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement and the means justified by actually effecting
that end.5 Mill rightly says that it is necessary to censor any corrupt society in order to help that
society become great, but others disagree with this method. 19th century philosopher Thomas Carlyle
feels that Every human being has a right to hear what other human beings have spoken to him. It is
one of the Rights of Men; a very cruel injustice if you deny it to a man!6 and early 20th century
philosopher Rosa Luxemburg believes that Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one
who thinks differently.7 Lets examine the scenario of a country with severely outdated traditions. In
this country everyone believes that it is alright to own slaves, men are vastly superior to women, and
everyone denounced as a witch is executed. According to Mill the best course of action would be taking
over the county and censoring all of the outdated traditions from the citizens until those ideas
disappear. Carlyle would say that the citizens of the country should continue to listen to those traditions
but may change their views if they want to. So far it is clear that Mill's approach, though a bit crude,
will result in a much quicker change since Carlyle's method is dependent on a change of heart in a very
traditional society. Luxemburg would definitely not approve of Mill's strategy as she, in a similar idea
to Carlyle, believes that something can not be called freedom if it is forced upon the people, so it would
be best to let the people of the country change at their own pace. This appears to be a kinder approach
but all it really does is let the people carry out their barbaric practices for an indeterminately longer
time than Mill's method, which will end the matter forcibly but effectively. Though the method need
not only be used to repair broken societies, but can also strengthen and maintain stable ones. It does
this through the continual censorship of things deemed universally unacceptable, such as theft and
adultery, and through the additional censorship of things that have become unacceptable over the years,
5
6

"John Stuart Mill. On Liberty. 1869." Bartleby.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.
"Censorship." Perfect-quote.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.
"The Problem of Dictatorship." Marxists.org. N.p., 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 28 May 2013.

such as drugs since the early 20th century and child pornography since the late. It is only through the
censorship of the unacceptable that the high standards of morality in a great society can survive.

Yet censorship not only maintains moral but legal standards as well. Some believe that censorship just
leads to misery and the destruction of society, such as 17th century philosopher John Milton. In his
book Areopagitica, Milton writes, "If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must
regulate all recreations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man. No music must be heard, no song be
set or sun, but what is grave and Doric.8 All of the censorship-leads-to-chaos theorists use an argument
similar to Milton's, so they are all at fault for they commit the logical fallacy of the slippery slope.
These theorists claim that just having some form of censorship will inevitably lead to complete chaos,
often in the form of a brutal dictatorship or extreme communism, but there is no reason for it to spread
any further than what is necessary to maintain a good legal system. This limited censorship includes the
content discussed earlier (images that could be harmful to children, hate speech, drugs, etc). It also
information such as patents, trademarks and copyrights. Without the ability to censor that information,
the potential profit for entrepreneurs and artists would be much lower than it currently is, resulting in a
society with neither technology nor culture (similar to how the theorists describe the world with
censorship). To go beyond that limited range wound just defeat the point of censorship, which is to
maintain society and protect the people within it, so it will not happen unless the one in control of it is
evil or the people decide they want change. If the people want change then the scope of censorship can
be as large as they want. Nobel laureate and 20th century philosopher George Bernard Shaw once said
that The ultimate form of censorship is murder.9 It is definitely possible that the censorship of human
life (capital punishment) will be allowed, but only if that is what the people want (or again if the person

8
9

"Philosophies on Censorship." Journalism.okstate.edu. Oklahoma State University, n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.
"Censorship." Silverfishopinion.blogspot.ca. Silverfish Books, 28 Feb. 2007. Web. 28 May 2013.

in charge is evil). If the person in control of society is evil then the people will be miserable with or
without censorship, so there is no need to think that tyranny with the use censorship would be any
worse than tyranny without.

And so censorship: is essential to protecting the vulnerable (children, ethnic minorities, etc), is
necessary in order to maintain great societies (or improve bad ones), and is a requirement to uphold the
law (patents, no child pornography, etc). Considering the above reasons, only one logical conclusion
can be made. Censorship is a great benefit to us all. If you do not agree then

Works Cited
"A Global History of Censorship." Randomhistory.com. N.p., 20 Mar. 2010. Web. 28 May 2013.
"The History of Illegal Drugs in America Why Casa Treatments Location Admissions."
Casapalmera.com. Casa Palmera, 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 May 2013.
"The Pornography Laws." Cbc.ca. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 5 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 May
2013.
Wilson, Fred. "John Stuart Mill." Plato.stanford.edu. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 10 July
2007. Web. 28 May 2013.