“People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they seldom use” – Soren Kierkegaard


There are many reasons we already have limitations on speech and regulate it to some degree. Here in the United States, we already have common laws that limit speech for issues, such as a breach of privacy, gag orders, defamation, solicitation of minors and of course for inciting violence. But here are 7 philosophical reasons that we ‘ought’ to limit freedom of speech even further,

1) Because we all fall under the social contract. (No, the social contract is not a piece of paper! It’s a concept that means when you live amongst a society then it is necessary to relinquish certain freedoms in order to peacefully co-exist. I would argue this as a logical absolute! In order to have a free society, any society, you must relinquish certain freedoms as to not breach the freedoms and rights of others).

2) Because hate speech is harmful and abusive, which should be rightfully limited by the government. (The old platitude “sticks and stones may break my bones but words don’t hurt”, is silly and wrong. Words do hurt! Words can have a positive and negative effect on a person(s) physical and mental health. This goes into Mill’s no harm principle, that the only times a government can/ought to exercise power is when it harms others).

3) Because it appeals to our civil liberties, (Let’s remember in civics limiting rights is part and parcel of having civil freedoms because there are positive and negative rights. Yes, you have the freedom to things but also from things).

4) But whom decides? (The old adage “I don’t like what you say but I’ll defend to the ‘death’ your right to say it!” is a quote from the French writer Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778). But lets remember Voltaire lived during a time of monarchy rule where often laws were decided by one ruling member or party. However, how we decide which speech should be limited should be done constitutionally and democratically. We live in a republic, the beauty of a republic is that we are always able to revisit old statues and amend them at any time. So if we were to limit freedom of speech nothing would be absolute. Even if we struggle to understand what is harmful and abusive speech we can always go back and revisit old statutes and discuss them in a ceremonious way).

5) Society must be intolerant of intolerance? (There’s an argument by the Austrian – British philosopher Karl Popper about the use of unlimited tolerance in a society. First introduced in his book entitled The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper introduces a concept known today as the Paradox of Intolerance. Popper imagines a society with unlimited tolerance – that accepts the intolerant views and behaviors of others. Popper argued that such a society would inevitably be destroyed because the intolerant would subjugate, by force, any ability for a society to be tolerant. We must, therefore, accept such a contradiction for pragmatic purposes. To be fair he did discuss allowing some intolerant views for critique. But emphasized such intolerant views should be suppressed, by force, if necessary. We cannot, he concluded, tolerate intolerance within a society).

6) Because free-speech cannot be avoided. (There’s an argument by the late legal philosopher Joel Feinberg called the offensive principle. But the name is very misleading, it should rather be called the avoidance principle. Feinberg argues that limiting speech that is heinous and offensive is necessary because it has an adverse effect on our daily lives. Feinberg would argue that things like publications, artistic works, and even certain public spheres would be protected given that they can easily be avoided and have no greater effect on any person’s daily-life).

7) Free-speech silences others? (This plays into the concept of tyranny of the majority but as J.S. Mill wrote, tyranny of decided opinion or the deep slumber of decided opinion. J.S. Mill criticized the conformist society as suppressing dissenting – unpopular opinions; however, it should be noted Mill’s conclusion was in favor of the modern-day concept of free-speech. But it should also be noted that this was not his argument. His argument raises the question as to the nature of conformist societies and whether they foster such environments where views and opinions of minorities can be expressed fully).

Explanation: Let’s not fall into a perfect-solution fallacy. I’m not saying that limiting free-speech will solve everything but it will definitely deter people from using abusive speech to harm others. Now I don’t care what you agree or disagree with, this isn’t 1984 thought policing, but I would argue that it’s more in terms of how you say something. Even the densest of people and my most ardent detractors can spot the difference between the writings of St. Jerome vs the West Borough Baptist Church. The former is tolerable, even though I disagree, but the later is purely intolerable and should rightfully be suppressed because that type of speech is abusive and harmful to others.

– Jubilee Nunnallee 6/11/2017