Excerpt from J.S Mill’s “On Liberty”

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I’m almost finished with reading On Liberty by J.S Mill. It is one if not the most compelling philosophy book I have ever read (although I haven’t read very many). Here is just one of the many excerpts that I have found enlightening. It has to do with wisdom…

From page 19 (Hackett Publishing Company edition):

[Humans are capable of rectifying their mistakes] by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument; but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he had kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it had been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.

The lessons I have picked up on from this is to keep an open mind and that criticism can be a good thing. By absorbing different perspectives you are able to produce a more accurate representation of what you are looking for. Not only is it important to have many experiences, but it is also beneficial to have discussions afterwards. You must be able to analyze the facts and take out some sort of meaning.