Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* A Plea to Ignore the Consequences of Free Speech, by Susan Dwyer

The Limits of a Constitutive View on Free Speech

The values of liberty of expression and equality are, as philosophers say, internally related. It makes no sense to attempt to balance one in favor of the other. On the one hand, to constrain free inquiry or free speech for reasons having to do with the possible bad consequences is self-defeating. To do so strikes at the very essence of human flourishing. Yet, to defend an absolute right to free speech is to make a mockery of why that liberty is valuable in the first place: it represents respect for the sense in which all human beings are equal.

The analysis I have sketched might be more intellectually satisfying than consequentialist approaches to free speech, but (regrettably) it appears to shed little light on how to resolve certain pressing policy questions. However, if something like the constitutive account is correct, we should be wary of allowing "merely" pragmatic concerns to force us to adopt policies that threaten human flourishing. Nonetheless, we cannot simply declare the problems too hard. So let me conclude this note by suggesting -- what might be gained by embracing a non-consequentialist, or constitutive, approach to thinking about the limits of free speech.

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