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July 9, 2020 / Congau

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is not about speech, not in the literal sense of course. Writing and other means of expression are obviously included; no one makes a mistake about that. Still, there is a considerable confusion about what constitutes “speech”. Any sight and sound that a person can produce is sometimes counted since people tend to focus on the mere principle of this freedom rather than the underlying intention. At the same time certain utterances that without doubt are instances of speech (hate speech for instance) are to be excluded from the otherwise generous liberty. This is what happens when the original meaning and argument for freedom of speech is not fully understood, and it is what often happens when an idea has grown old and becomes a habitually accepted truth. It is taken for granted and religiously revered and the mere resemblance of the cherished object is worshiped and moved beyond criticism. The only remedy for this is always to navigate back to the starting point and try to examine the thing with the untainted eyes of a child for whom all ideas are fresh and unspoiled. Where then does this idea of free speech come from. What is the meaning of it all?

Here I don’t want to argue the case of free speech versus unfree speech. I happen to think that free speech is a good thing, but I will not try to explain its advantages. John Stuart Mill’s famous essay “On Liberty” does that admirably and his arguments are generally accepted in the Western world. He may still be wrong of course, but I will not go into that old debate now. Let’s just assume that freedom of speech is a good thing and move on from there. There is still a big question remaining about what this thing really is. Granted that it is good in general, we must figure out what it makes sense to include in this good.

To be continued

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