“People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they seldom use”
– Soren Kierkegaard
There are many reasons we already have limitations on speech and regulate it to some degree. All across the world common laws have been enacted that limit speech for issues related to breach of privacy, gag orders, defamation, solicitation of minors, and of course for incitation of violence. But offensive-speech has become a controversial issue lately. Limitations on offensive speech exist in countries all across the world. France prohibits private conversations that incites discrimination, hatred, and violence. Chili has laws against the use of social media to advocate for discriminatory hatred. In Canada publicly inciting hatred against any group is deemed a criminal offense and carries a maximum 2 year prison sentence. Yet, you may be shocked to learn that these countries didn’t implode, that there governments didn’t collapse. In countries, like the United States, you will be far more likely to find hateful facist hate-groups banded together marching in public. With the protection of the state and local authorities, these groups march under the banner of freedom of speech. It’s interesting that on social-media sites that promote freedom of speech (i.e. Bitchute, Gab, and 4Chan), are also popular social sites for far-right fascist and domestic terrorists. With the increasing ongoing debates happening online and in my home country of the United States I thought I would provide 7 philosophical reasons that we ‘ought’ to limit free-speech in terms of offensive speech.
Distinguishing Free vs Hate Speech
- Freedom of speech is the civic right of the public to speak and share their views without fear of retaliation and censorship by the government; with some common-law limitations. These common-law limitations make it somewhat different than the idea of free-speech absolutism, which is a society with virtually no limits or legal ramifications on public speech.
- Hate speech are words with the negative denotation and connotation of causing emotional or physical harm to a protected minority group. These groups need federal protection against hateful language used to historically oppress them, with imbedded ideas that continue to adversely affect them; such as systemic racism and gender discrimination.
7 Philosophical Reasons List
1) Because we all fall under the social contract. (No, the social contract is not a piece of paper! It’s a concept that means when you live amongst a society then it is necessary to relinquish certain freedoms in order to peacefully co-exist. I would argue this as a necessary consequence of a society. In order to have a free society, any society, you must relinquish certain freedoms as to not breach the freedoms and rights of others).
2) Because hate speech is harmful and abusive, which should be rightfully limited by the government. (The old platitude “sticks and stones may break my bones but words don’t hurt”, is untrue. Words do hurt! Words can have a positive and negative effect on a person(s) physical and mental health. This goes into Mill’s no harm principle, that the only times a government can/ought to exercise power is when such acts by the people harms others).
3) Because it appeals to our civil liberties, (Let’s remember in civics limiting rights is part and parcel of having civil freedoms because there are positive and negative rights. Yes, you have the freedom to things but also from things).
4) But to whom decides? (The old adage “I don’t like what you say but I’ll defend to the ‘death’ your right to say it!” is an old quote stolen from the French writer Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778). But lets remember, Voltaire lived during a time of monarchy rule where it was often the case that laws were decided by one ruling member or party. However, in modern times people are far likely to live in a republic or commonwealth country. Here we have judges and judicial tribunals who interpret and decide on these laws. This way nothing is absolute, we can always revisit old statues and amend them at any time. This practice is known as ‘common law’ or ‘judicial precedent’. And that’s the answer.
5) Society must be intolerant of intolerance? (There’s an argument by the Austrian – British philosopher Karl Popper about the use of unlimited tolerance in a society. First introduced in his book entitled The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper introduces a concept known today as the Paradox of Intolerance. Popper imagines a society with unlimited tolerance – that accepts the intolerant views and behaviors of others. Popper argued that such a society would inevitably be destroyed because the intolerant would subjugate, by force, any ability for a society to be tolerant. We must, therefore, accept such a contradiction for pragmatic purposes. To be fair, Popper did argue for some intolerant views for critique. But emphasized such intolerant views should be suppressed, by force, when necessary. We cannot, he concluded, tolerate intolerance within a society).
6) Because hate-speech cannot be avoided. (There’s an argument by the late legal philosopher Joel Feinberg called the offensive principle. But the name is very misleading, it should rather be called the avoidance principle. Feinberg argues that limiting speech that is heinous and offensive is necessary because it has an adverse effect on our daily lives. Feinberg would argue that things like publications, artistic works, and even certain public spheres would be protected given that they can easily be avoided and have no greater effect on any person’s daily-life).
7) Hate-speech silences others? (This plays into the concept of tyranny of the majority but as J.S. Mill wrote, tyranny of decided opinion or the deep slumber of decided opinion. J.S. Mill criticized the conformist society as suppressing dissenting – unpopular opinions. It should be noted, however, that this was not Mill’s conclusion. While he was in favor of the modern-day concept of free-speech this was not the point of his argument. His argument would ‘raise the question’ as to the nature of conformist societies and whether they foster such environments where views and opinions of minorities can be expressed fully).
Let’s not fall into a perfect-solution fallacy. I’m not arguing that limiting hate-speech will solve everything and there won’t be problems. But enacting laws that regulate hate speech would act as a deterrent for people that hold potential ideas that are abusive and harmful to minorities. I realize that ideas and words are somewhat of a relativistic notion. But there is such a thing as ‘harmful language’ that are simply meant to be abusive with the intention of causing harm. And I see no arguments from the other side other than thought terminating cliché’s, “free speech!“, “my opinion!“, “whom decides?” We already have common-law statues in place that regulate free-speech, (i.e. defamation, insider trading, solicitation of minors, credible threats, gagging orders etc.). If that is true then there’s no reason we could not extend the practice to interpret abusive and harmful language that affect minorities. Any country that promotes freedom of speech has sensible laws in place that regulate and limit speech that is harmful or a danger to the public. And yet, are also slow to enact laws that protect minorities against abusive language, which is somehow sacrosanct.
– Jubilee Nunnallee 6/11/2017