Is there an idea so dangerous or so unusual that one might not share with the rest of the world for fear of the consequences? The principle of free speech was created on the idea that no idea was too dangerous for the public to know. In this paper, the dangerous nature of ideas will be discussed using Tuvel’s article, In Defense of Transracialism, as an example. Using these ideas, Mill’s On Liberty will be used as a comparison for many of the ideas discussed.
In the article, In Defense of Transracialism, the philosopher Rebecca Tuvel argued that many of the elements from transgenderism could be applied to transracial. She uses a case of Rachel Dolezal who as a white woman successfully passed as black for many years.
She claims that the arguments for transgenderism are quite similar and that they could be applied to transracial individuals. After this article was published in the Hypatia, a feminist academic journal, she and the journal were scrutinized by the readers and in some cases threatened.
An open letter signed by over 800 philosophers and people in academia had called for the paper to be taken down with various arguments. Jennifer Schuessler in an article noted, “Some members of the magazine’s 10-member associate editorial board, which has no role in selecting articles for the journal, posted a “profound apology” on Hypatia’s Facebook page…”.
Another open letter went out by the website Feminist Current but this time in defense of Tuvel and the article, they claim that the first open letter has “engaged in a call for …censorship and deep intellectual dishonesty” and Many other arguments were made by Feminist Current and the journal eventually had the article republished and the board of directors retired.
The article continues to be debated on the actual harm done versus the claims made about it. In this debate Tuvel is at center stage taking all the brunt of the attack being the author of the article, however the group of philosophers and members of Academia that had signed the “Open letter to Hypatia” were also quite involved.
After the Feminist Current had intervened with their claims of censorship these individuals who were philosophers and professors from Academia were now known for being for censorship. This will undoubtedly hurt their careers, and the complete opposite had occurred for those of the Feminist Current being known for helping Tuvel and keeping their community free of censorship.
In On Liberty, Mill makes a few arguments in support of free speech, the first Mill says is the silencing of an opinion. This he says may well be true and to say otherwise “…is to assume our own infallibility.” To elaborate further should one silence an opinion, popular or unpopular, they are admitting to having no knowledge of the subject, for it they did they would recognize the fact that this opinion could very well be true.
This is what Mill means by “assuming our own infallibility.”. Mills next argument is very similar to the first, he claims that an opinion must never be silenced even if false for even false statements contain a portion of the truth. Many popular opinions are often only partially true and likewise unpopular opinions that may appear false likely contain some truth.
Since this opinion contains truth it is important to find the whole picture using both partially true opinions. Finally, he argues that one will benefit in their beliefs by engaging in argument. To take a position and defend against assailants of another belief is the best way to truly understand both yours and another person’s position.
Mill goes into some detail about defending his claims by disproving other claims. His first rebuttal on the topic of “conscientious conviction” or having the right to silence those with ideas potentially harmful to society. Mill responds by claiming that people can only silence one who has proved the idea wrong and allowed the individual to correct it. The second deals with the government’s role in protecting society in the form of upholding certain beliefs.
Mill replies by saying that this all relies on the government being infallible. He recounts two figures in history in which the government had silenced people for the good of the society. Jesus Christ and Socrates, these two had questioned previously absolute beliefs and put doubts into peoples heads. The government had put them to death in order to protect society.
While not put to death, Tuvel had received much backlash about her paper, one might say to the point where her opinion was silenced because prevailing opinion’s voice was stronger. Mill calls this “tyranny of the majority” and here the majority admits their infallibility for not having extensive knowledge of the subject at hand.Mills third rebuttal is on the topic of the truth’s ability to prevail in all situations. Some may claim that if it is really the truth then it will always survive no matter the situation.
Mill says that this is unfair, the truth will not always win and references the reformation of the Catholic church which took 26 times before Martin Luther was able to make it happen. He also says that if the truth is lost, it is often found again at a much later date. This relates to our case by Hypatia unpublishing Tuvel’s article, this is a prime example of the truth becoming lost and therefore succumbing to persecution.
Finally, the last counterclaim is that now that we are no longer killing people for having differing beliefs and by that, no true opinion will ever be lost. Mill responds by claiming that there still are persecutions taking place like with the cases of atheism and blasphemy. He also claims that “social intolerance” still factor into people hiding their true ideas and stifling opinions.
Is there any topic of discussion that is to dangerous for discussion? One might claim that no, there is nothing dangerous that will come from discussion, words themselves are just words. Should people talk about mass genocide within a free society as free people, that in and of itself is not dangerous. Should those two individuals go and commit such mass genocide their actions would then be viewed as dangerous not the topic of their discussion.
Hypatia should have stood by their article and kept it published. In an academic journal there should be discussion about the article not death threats and vicious critiques. If this is what happens when a controversial article is released then there is something sorely wrong with the way ideas are viewed.
Hypatia should have set the stage by leaving the article up and let the people debate and confirm their beliefs, because as Mill said, one of the benefits of free speech is the ability to discuss and affirm your beliefs. This did occur when the Feminist Current had sent their open letter to the 800+ people from the first open letter, this is where discussion happens, two sides debating about correctness aligns perfectly with Mill’s view of free speech.
No, Tuvel’s article is not so dangerous that it should not have been published and discussed. Tuvel’s critics have claim that the “continued availability causes further harm” through 4 main points. One, Tuvel deadnames a trans woman. Two, Tuvel gives misleading information about certain practices. Three, Tuvel misrepresents accounts of people alignements with certain groups.
Fourth, Tuvel does not cite enough women of color or trans women in her paper. In this whole discussion, Tuvel’s critics are confusing harm with offense, and in a world of free speech offense is something that needs to be argued against in order to affirm you position, that is the nature of debate. These criticisms of the paper are not dangerous, they may be offensive to some people but are not dangerous.
Even the Feminist Current, had said, “Many of us do not agree with the premise of Tuvel’s article in fact,” and “we wholeheartedly support open debate and the freedom of intellectual exchange through the medium of publishing.”Members of the Feminist Current are basically voicing the ideas of Mill here, they also understand that not everyone will agree with the topics of papers, but debate with others to show their faults.
Now one might say that, Ms. Tuvel did not reference enough of the community she wished to represent and in turn hurt the community. Many people had criticized her citations in the paper as not representing enough women of color or transgender individuals and yes more could have been cited.
One might also say that Tuvel uses what is called the subversive argument. Mr Case at Quillette says, “We should not accept transracialism.If we should accept transgenderism, then we should accept transracialism.” Intentional or not, this can be viewed as a very harmful towards certain groups of people.
Throughout this paper the possible dangerous nature of ideas were discussed using Ms.Tuvel’s paper In Defense of Transracialism and using Mill’s arguments from On Liberty argued for why Free Speech is important with relation to the issue at hand. Ms. Tuvels article should have been published and stayed published on the basis that members of academia should have the restraint to discuss and debate rather than resort to harsh scrutiny and threats.
Mill’s arguments were mirrored by the members of the Feminist Current who supported open debate and intellectual exchange. However ideas can be interpreted differently by different people and can be potentially harmful in the case of the subversive argument.
- Berm?dez, Jos? Luis. “Defining ‘Harm’ in the Tuvel Affair,” Inside Higher Education, May 5, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.
- Case, Spencer. “What Philosophers Must Learn From the Transracialism Meltdown,” Quillette, May 26, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2018.
- Jennifer Schuessler. “A Defense of ‘Transracial” Identity Roils Philosophy World,” The New York, Times, May 19, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2018.
- “Open letter to Hypatia,”Google Docs, archived May, 2, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.
- Singal, Jesse. “This is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like,” New York Magazine, May 2, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.
- Tuvel, Rebecca. “In Defense of Transracialism,” Hypatia 32, no. 2 (2017): 263-264, accessed October 26, 2018,
- Vigo, Julian and Lorna Garano. “An open letter on the Hypatia controversy,” Feminist Current, May 15, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.
Cite this essay
Dangerous Nature of Ideas. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/dangerous-nature-of-ideas-essay