13
Nov
09

On Liberty, or, the death of Newtonian physics

In  On Liberty J.S. Mill argus that doctrines, hypotheses, and suppositions should be defended by nothing other than their merits. Their acceptance should not be helped along by government aid, and more importantly, not hindered by censorship.

Without rehearsing the argument, there are some ironic examples of Mill’s point that he could not have possibly planned because they relied on things that were, for him, in the future.

For example, when talking about how important it is for all beliefs to be questionable, he talks about how even something as certain as Newtonian physics should be deemed questionable, because such skepticism only makes us more confident of it’s truth. What a nice, albeit inadvertent,  illustration of Mill’s point that even the most certain doctrines can in time become falsified. Today, we know that Newtonian physics is flawed in many ways, and in fact, we have replaced it with a much more advanced theory.

Mill thought we should be allowed to question Newtonian physics, because such questioning would merely reinforce our certainty in it, but in fact, questioning it allowed us to do the other thing that skpeticism allows, which is the opportunity to “trade falsehood for truth.”

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