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Title: Reasoning about free speech
Author: Vidor, Vinicius Costa
ISNI:       0000 0004 7429 3571
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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No one seems to be against freedom of speech. We have profound disagreements, nonetheless, about what people should be allowed to say. Superficially, these disagreements seem to be independent of our own personal views on larger moral issues such as the desirability of state neutrality and the possibility of promoting certain views of the good life. This perception, however, misrepresents the deeper connections that one's views on free speech have with one's interpretation of political morality; connections which shape the very way in which one reasons about free speech. In order to understand these connections, it is important to be conscious of the rich and complex history of the very notion of freedom of speech. While sometimes represented as a modern ideal, the very fabric of the modern view on free speech is the result of earlier social practices and of competing moral claims. To understand how we think about free speech today it is not enough to look into our own world. Some aspects can only be made vivid by revisiting the history of this notion. But not only that. Aside from reconstructing the history of the modern notion of freedom of speech, we also have to grasp the place of liberalism in shaping our views on these matters. Questions of paternalism, neutrality, and the good life, and of liberalism's relationship to these ideas, are all important in defining what it means to have free speech. Any articulation of free speech which disregards these points would be missing an important aspect of the discussions surrounding what we should be allowed to say. To reason about free speech, we need to go beyond the normal justifications for the freedom of speech. Truth, democracy, and autonomy are the familiar reasons for defending freedom of speech, but they are not the defining aspects of one's free speech reasoning. For that, we need to look elsewhere. This is what the argument in the thesis is set to do: to explore and explain how our free speech reasoning is shaped by historical experiences and by the gradual evolution of a certain view of the moral world. By engaging in a reconstruction of the different forms of reasoning on these issues, the argument sets out a systematic account of the competing ways of reasoning about free speech. The argument has four parts. In Part One, I set out the history of the social practices and moral claims which gave birth to the modern idea of freedom of speech and claim that they are still an integral part of what it means to have free speech. Part One shows how some of the normative positions (liberties, claim-rights, and immunities) which are thought to be part of the freedom of speech were the result of certain historical experiences. Then, in Part Two, I introduce some key theoretical distinctions with regard to liberalism, which provide the argumentative platform for the rest of the thesis. In developing the distinction among different strands of the liberal tradition, the variable role and meanings of principles of neutrality is of particular significance. Part Three then goes on to connect the different strands of the liberal tradition with the justifications for valuing freedom of speech, showing how opposing versions of the arguments for a defense of free speech reflect underlying assumptions about political morality. Finally, Part Four explores the three core aspects of the modern view on free speech: the formalization of moral reasoning, the role of a set of individual rights in the identification of neutral reasons, and the place of one's view on political morality in the delimitation of the meaning of the freedom of speech. It is not the purpose of the argument to defend one particular form of reasoning over the others, but to examine the different argumentative resources that are available within competing strands of the contemporary debate. Put simply, this thesis seeks to show that - and the ways in which - our free speech reasoning is fundamentally shaped by our deeper views about political morality.
Supervisor: Walker, Neil ; MacDonald, Euan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: free speech ; liberalism ; formal reasoning