the Irish for rights

Why protect free speech?

Index on Censorship has published a short edited extract from Ideas That Matter: Key Concepts for the 21st Century (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009) by AC Grayling, Professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, in which he provides a compelling and pithy case in favour of free speech and against censorship:

It’s a surprise to learn how universal censorship is

Cover of Grayling's While even the most tyrannical regime will pay lip service to free speech, it is a right that is constantly denied.

There are two bedrock civil liberties without which the very idea of civil liberty is empty. They are freedom of speech and due process of law. … The fundamental justifications for freedom of expression are as follows. First, it is an intrinsic right of every individual not to be forced to think, speak and believe at the dictate of others, but to do these things of their own free accord. Secondly, it is of the essence to the possession and protection of other liberties that individuals have this right. Thirdly, in the absence of the first two considerations, the full development of the human individual is vastly more difficult and in most cases not even possible, Fourthly, freedom of expression is essential to the interchange of ideas and views, and discussion of them, without which society cannot be healthy or mature. Fifthly, by means of the fourth point it promotes and aids the quest for truth or at very least sound and responsible knowledge. Sixthly, it is a vital check on government, which can too easily veer into tyranny without it. … the enemy of all that freedom of expression makes possible — the six points, at least, detailed above — is censorship. It comes as a surprise to most people to learn how universal censorship is, even in contemporary Western liberal democracies. … It is ubiquitous and constant. It does vastly more harm than good.

More here, here, here and here.

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6 Responses to “Why protect free speech?”

  1. […] Why protect free speech? Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)A new road…..LET’S NOT ALLOW MPs’ […]

  2. parviziyi says:

    Quote: “Fourthly, freedom of expression is essential to the interchange of ideas and views, and discussion of them, without which society cannot be healthy or mature.” I entirely agree, but now I disagree with the next point: “Fifthly, by means of the fourth point it promotes and aids the quest for truth or at very least sound and responsible knowledge.” The Arabic world has far more censorship than the European world. And the true main reason is NOT that Arabic governments wish to supress political dissent. Rather, many Arabic journalists, and Arabic readers, have attitudes that undermine the quest for sound and responsible knowledge when placed in an environment of unrestricted free speech. When they hear a story that sounds plausible in light of their presuppositions, they tend to report it as true, without scrutinizing the evidence properly — the writer and the reader, both.

    We all make decisions about what is true and false based on our presuppositions, but in some jurisdictions the most widely held standards of evidence, held by the man on the street, are insufficiently rigorous and insufficiently well informed. For example, if there’s a common belief that government officials act corruptly in their own self interest, then a news story that reports a particular instance of this will tend to be believed no matter whether the evidence is flimsy. This is why most Arabic countries have strong prohibitions against such stories. Their policy, which I think is sensible, is that if you have evidence of corruption, you should bring it to the anti-corruption prosecutor, not the mass media. That is censorship, you know, but it’s with an intent to promote responsible knowledge.

    As a different kind of example, Syria has strong censorship against speech that promotes sectarian or religious acrimony. I personally am very strongly opposed to any similar kind of censorship in the educated society of today’s Western Europe. My reason is based on trusting people to evaluate the evidence intelligently. But I don’t confidently suppose that my reason is applicable to societies that were largely illiterate until a generation or two ago.

  3. […] have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from surveillance. As the prolific and challenging AC Grayling argues in his new book Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment […]

  4. […] by the EUI, Florence, has just published a fascinating article on SSRN on the extent to which the existing rationales for freedom of expression apply […]

  5. bgmaster says:

    Democracy is based on the idea that in a free exchange of ideas, the truth will win out. Speech designed to mislead, misinform, or intimidate is an anathema to our purpose. We are guaranteed a right to free speech and we should use it wisely.

  6. Adam Brooks says:

    Freedom to speak freely, without limitation or regulation is termed as the Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Expression implies not only the freedom to speak but also to distribute and access of the information through various media modes. Although, Freedom of Expression is recognized in the Human Rights Laws of the inter-American, European and African regions; it has its own form in various regions. Everyone should know his rights and should use them wisely.

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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