Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 4; doi: 10.35995/jci03010004
Against the Harm Argument for Censorship: On the Abuse of Psychology and the Dismissal of Rights
1 Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 15 Jan 2022 / Revised: 17 Oct 2022 / Accepted: 8 Feb 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
Several recent arguments trying to justify further free speech restrictions by appealing to harms that are allegedly serious enough to warrant such restrictions regularly fail to provide sufficient empirical evidence and normative argument. The two recent arguments critically examined here confirm this picture. Ann E. Cudd tries to make all kinds of clearly protected free speech responsible for “trauma.” However, she misrepresents the psychological studies she relies on and her account legitimizes anti-speech violence on a massive scale, which renders it morally absurd. Melina Constantine Bell tries to combine John Stuart Mill and psychological studies to argue that sexist and racial jokes and slurs produce severe harm and should therefore be restricted. Yet the studies are flimsy and the picture of Mill unrecognizable. I will, then, address, as a corrective to the one-sidedness of those who warn against the alleged harms of free speech, the harms imposed by compelled speech, using the topical example of compelling people to use female pronouns for males who claim to be women. I show that this practice is abusive and wrongful. I conclude with a reminder about the nature of liberal democracy. Its raison d’être is not protection from harm per se but the safeguarding of freedom. There are no convincing reasons to further restrict or, especially, to compel speech, but every reason to defend free speech.
Keywords: Melina Constantine Bell; Ann E. Cudd; free speech; harm; preferred pronouns; rights
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Steinhoff, U. Against the Harm Argument for Censorship: On the Abuse of Psychology and the Dismissal of Rights. Controversial_Ideas 2023, 3, 4.
Steinhoff U. Against the Harm Argument for Censorship: On the Abuse of Psychology and the Dismissal of Rights. Journal of Controversial Ideas. 2023; 3(1):4.
Steinhoff, Uwe. 2023. "Against the Harm Argument for Censorship: On the Abuse of Psychology and the Dismissal of Rights." Controversial_Ideas 3, no. 1: 4.