Freedom Of Speech Expression Philosophy Essay

Freedom of speech/expression enables you to achieve reciprocity. Some might feel that other people prevent them from voicing their opinion; freedom of speech enables their independency, to stand apart from what is commonly believed in the community. It secures independence from the community and or from society itself. Therefore, there are not really any limits on freedom of speech/expression except for, public constraints and hate speech. Public constraints are when you have the ‘Freedom to say what one likes but not where one likes’ [1] , this limits individuals from exercising freedom of speech if it will lead up to uproar and worry. An example of a public constraint is when one randomly shouts out fire in a crowded cinema. This is because it is provoking unjustified fear into a crowded room. ‘Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, colour, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits’ [2] It limits one to express their opinion intended to harm someone.

However, John Stuart Mills argues that we ought to have freedom of speech/expression without any limits whatsoever as he believes that ‘freedom of speech is essential to progress’ [3] . It will get us closer to the knowledge of the truth. For him freedom of speech is a tool which would eventually lead us to progress within society and to come closer to the truth of any subject.

Mills argues that, ‘though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of the truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.’ [4] What he is trying to say is that even if we got the truth for a particular subject, it is still beneficial to let them say what they want to say as this lets us challenge the truth; it prevents us from holding it as prejudice as we are reaffirming the truth. Therefore he argues that we should not have any limits on freedom of speech as we ought to let them and permit them to say what they want for us to get closer to the truth.

However, others argue that there should be limits on freedom of expression/speech as it can lead to devastating consequences. For instance, Pornography is seen as a form of freedom of expression, and many feminists believe that this is one of the causes which lead to rape. For example, ‘in the hearings for the Andrea Dworkin/Mackinnon ordinance, one native American woman described how to white men raped her. During the attack, they repeatedly referred to a computer game called ‘Cluser’s revenge’, in which the aim of the game is to rape Native American women (Mackinnon and Dworkin, 1997).’ [5] This is a factual example of how pornography incites its viewers to violence.

For that reason we should restrict and censor pornography in order to decrease rape as there is a very strong correlation between pornography and rape. Though, Ronald Dworkin argues that limiting or censoring pornography can only be justified as a way of satisfying people who tell you how to live. [6] This contradicts the values of freedom of speech/expression all together as that is all about allowing individuals to express their ideas and secure independence from the community or a whole society. Also, in his view that is ruled out in commitment to individual rights Therefore, limiting freedom of expression in regards to pornography cannot be justified. Consequently, you have other feminists who believe that pornography is not freedom of expression at all. ‘According to Andrea Dworkin Pornography does not express ideas and so is not relevant to truth or progress.’ [7] Which argues against Mills’ statements that there should be no restrictions on free speech/freedom of expression as this ‘free exchange of ideas is necessary for progress and truth.’ [8] Dworkin argues that, ‘we are told all the time that pornography is really about ideas. Well, a rectum doesn’t have an idea, and a vagina doesn’t have an idea, and the mouths of women in pornography do not express ideas. ‘ [9] Thus, she suggests that pornography will not develop society as the sexual acts between a man and a woman will not help shape the world.

Moreover, Andrea Dworkin argues that if pornography causes rape then we ought to censor it. Her argument is appealing to the fact that pornography heightens the risk of crime therefore there is an obvious reason to censor it.

However, all the empirical research shows that even though there is a very strong connection between pornography and rape, it is not the actual cause of rape. Therefore her argument is seen to be invalid. Her claim is that porn portrays a negative, unequal and degrading view of women. She believes that if women see what is in those pornographic videos, they will be appalled, disgusted and ashamed as it is a way of humiliating women. But the question is, is defensiveness a reason for censorship? Is that a good enough reason to censor freedom of expression? Do any of her arguments actually hold weight? Is there a reason enough to censor pornography because it offends people?

Feinberg says that this is not a valid enough reason to censor pornography but more of a reason to put places into zones [10] so families do not come across sex shops or any other X-rated material. Even if offensiveness holds, the most you can get out of that in respect to pornography is that you can get regulation on the distribution of it, not entirely restricting it. Another argument to why we should ban pornography and limit peoples freedom of expression is because it harms it’s participants, as most of the people getting into that industry tend to be desperate people that don’t actually want to do it but there isn’t any other option left for them to explore and make money in order to carry on meeting their wants and needs and meeting the basic standard of living. However, the counter argument is that; similar to other cases such as tackling sex trafficking, we should tackle the problem at source. So not ban pornography itself but help save the people that are in situations that they don’t actually want to be in.

Furthermore, introducing laws that restrict one from voicing their opinion in rude and harmful ways towards another person, religion, ethnicity etc. goes against the values of freedom of speech/expression. One might argue that we should be able to express our views regardless of how it would make one feel, as they have the freedom to ignore. However, going back to John Stuarts argument, freedom of expression/speech should have no limits as he argues that ‘freedom of speech is essential to progress.’ [11] However, professor Jeremy Waldron argues that ‘Sense of security in the space we all inhabit is a public good.’ , ‘like pretty beaches or clean air, and is so precious that the law should require everyone to maintain it: hate speech undermines this public good… it does this not only by intimidating discrimination and violence but by reawakening living nightmares of what society was like… it creates something like an environmental threat to social peace, a sort of slow-acting poison, accumulating here and there, word by word, so that eventually it becomes harder and less natural for even the good-hearted members of society to play their part in maintaining this public good.’ Waldron is suggesting that allowing hate speech will not lead to progress as it will lead to social uproar and this will lead us back to where we were decades ago where minorities were marginalised, through discrimination and racism. That is not seen as a form of development but more as a form of deterioration. ‘Society will be going back to the shame of the past: slavery, riots, massacres and the holocaust.’ [12] Resulting into the society failing.

In conclusion, I do agree with the fact that there should be some form of limits in regard to freedom of expression/speech as different opinions and actions can cause controversy. Hate speech will not only marginalise minorities, it will also harm them emotionally as it hurts ones feelings hearing hurtful opinions. Therefore I do believe that there should be some form of restrictions on hate speech. However, in regards to pornography, I don’t agree that it should be restricted all together, as it someone’s own choice if they want to buy it, watch it or take part in it. Censoring porn can be tricky, for instance ‘zoning’. Dworkin argues that ‘zoning’ violates people’s rights as you are forcing people that want to go and buy porn to advertise what they are doing. Ronald Dworkin thinks that is unacceptable as it stigmatises people who want to buy porn and in this society that is unacceptable. This recognises that people have the right to porn in the name of people’s rights. Even though there is a strong connection between porn and rape, it does not prove that pornography is the actual cause of rape. Thus, if porn does not harm another then individuals should be able to have the right to do what they want to.

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