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September 16, 2012


Matt Hoffman

I don't know about "national security". US law prohibits the publication of instructions on how to make nuclear weapons, which is fine by me, although I am inclined to agree about the usual deontologist argument for free speech (the human right to self-expression forms part of the liberal goal of self-realisation). After all, human rights jurisprudence only gets interesting when two fundamental rights collide (in this example, the right to life and the right to speech).

Anomaly UK

This seems to be a matter of pure prejudice. I can certainly understand seeing equality for homosexuals or women as preferable to inequality, but I don't know how you can say that's progress towards truth. What does that even mean? If we progress towards more patriarchy, won't people see that as "more true"?

Similarly, you want to give up consequentialist arguments for free speech and just say it's better. Says who?

What's the basis of these non-consequentialist arguments?

Jim M.

Does the "sam bacile" case illustrate a case where the content is directly and adversely affected by the nature of the medium?
Marshall McCluhan, Jerry Mander et al would doubtless point out that neither the TV nor, in different ways, the internet will ever provide a suitable forum for honest debate. Slogan and soundbite are the order of the day, and I doubt Mill would be too impressed!


How long will it take do you think before discussion of heterodox economic theories overturns the neoclassical nonsense that is still taught in universities across the world? Will the overwhelming evidence to the effect that it is largely meaningless have any effect on its acceptance/dismissal?
Are there other factors to consider in this particular case?


Surely it's just that the Ross study only measures short-term effects, and proves what we already knew (people tend not to change their minds), whereas the long-term effects of free speech are hugely beneficial to "learning" in the population as a whole?

I may not be inclined to change my mind in the face of contrary evidence, but by leaving you free to give that evidence, I do at least ensure that it's perpetuated, so that when it comes time for my son to learn about the subject in question, he is exposed to both sides BEFORE he's made up his mind.

Progress is made on a generational basis, but societies that repress free speech simply ensure that children think the same thoughts their parents do, and it's hard to make any progress under those circumstances.

Stephen Newton

I wonder if your arguments are undermined by a focus on opposing sides; that is people whose minds are made up and, as you say, are consequently vulnerable to confirmation bias.

It must be more often the case that the majority sit between the two sides and float between the arguments. If this were not the case, elections and referenda would produce very similar results each time.

I do think that Mill is guilty of assuming a degree of honesty on the part of those engaged in debate that is often lacking. Sadly today, particularly in US politics, there is a tendency to lie in pursuit of a greater good. We have Glen Beck pushing his 'Overton window' technique which involves 'mainstreaming', extreme opinions and myths in the hope of moving a debate's centre of gravity closer to one's true position.

So we have politicians saying women can't get pregnant from rape; they know this is a lie, but see it as necessary white lie that will help them restrict abortion. Other examples may be holocaust or climate change denial. This kind of abuse of free speech is exceptionally difficult to counter.


I am all for free speech and nothing should justify restriction to free speech. Free speech in my opinion is a fundamental freedom that allows everyone to express their opinion while at the same time respecting every other persons own freedom and right. Free speech is not a license to insult every other person’s opinion or view point.
Freedom of speech presupposes that every person who advocates for freedom of speech is disciplined enough to respect every other person’s view point even when it contradicts ones own view point. Freedom of speech also presupposes that people are matured enough to be open minded to listen to opposing or contracting view point and be honest to themselves to listen to what the other person has to say, even if it means seeing things from a different angle or point of view
Free speech is not a license to wallow in obstinate ignorance but a willingness to learn from other peoples view point

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