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Does the marketplace of ideas work? Show more Show less

It is said that truth is found where opinions intersect. The marketplace of ideas is the figurative town thoroughfare where zealots and intellectuals barter, subjecting their ideas to the gauntlet of public debate. Much how the best goods and services may rise to the top in a free market economy through innovation and competition, truth and the soundest ideas and philosophies may rise to prominence through rigorous and honest questioning. But is it really that simple? Does it work?

Yes, the marketplace of ideas works Show more Show less

First formulated by John Stuart Mill in his 1859 book "On Liberty", the marketplace theory for the natural flow of ideas is a pillar of first amendment jurisprudence with basis in hundreds of court decisions. Modern censorship in the online age have cemented further the necessity of a laissez-faire marketplace of ideas in a liberty minded society.
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A century of legal basis

The U.S. Supreme Court and lesser courts have invoked the marketplace in hundreds of cases in defense of free speech.
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The Argument

One hundred years of court case decisions have galvanized the marketplace of ideas as a titanic analogy, a central pillar of first amendment jurisprudence. Concepts of this sort in favor of the free exchange of ideas were first postulated in 1859 by John Stuart Mill in his book, On Liberty. He stated that no one person knows the objective truth nor does any one idea embody it. We are fallible and often stubbornly convinced of our own rightness and this penchant can lead to censorship and to ideas and opinions slipping into dogma if left untested.[1] This is the basis of the supreme court’s many decisions that have preserved freedom of speech in the United States since 1919. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. dissented from his constituents in the case of Abrams vs. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919). In this case, Jacob Abrams was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 for the calling of worker strikes and cessation of material production that would hamper the U.S. war effort against Germany.[2] While Holmes’ opinion was shared by few others in this case resulting in a conviction, the marketplace of ideas became a contagious idea that swayed hundreds of future decisions.

Counter arguments

The marketplace metaphor is still founded on a basis built in a bygone era. It does not translate to the modern, digital age.



[P1] The marketplace of ideas is a concept that has been consistently re-asserted by US judicial decisions. [P2] This would not be the case if it didn't work.

Rejecting the premises


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This page was last edited on Thursday, 2 Apr 2020 at 12:45 UTC