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Judicial Iniquity : John Stuart Mill reminds us that governments and the courts must never be allowed to criminalise matters of belief or opinion.
Judicial Iniquity

Abridged from ‘On Liberty’, by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

We often see those in power trying to use the courts to silence views they find objectionable, rather than tolerate them or engage with them. But Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill recalled that many centuries ago, such supposedly high-minded legislation resulted in one of history’s worst miscarriages of justice – the execution of Socrates.

BORN in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man [Socrates] has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy.

This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognised by the State; indeed his accuser asserted that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a “corruptor of youth.” Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.

Abridged from ‘On Liberty’, by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

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Picture: By William Blake (1757-1827), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
The Head of Socrates, by William Blake (1757-1827). On the death of Socrates, see our post The Last Days of Socrates.
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