Are Limits On Freedom Of Speech Ever Justified?
Freedom of speech is defined as the independence to voice ones opinion without being subjected to censorship or any form of limitation that may cause the expression of speech to be restricted or hindered.
The issue of whether or not freedom of speech should be allowed has been a much debated subjected for decades. Even more so debated has been the issue of what degree of independence that the freedom of speech should be given in order to maintain the utility of the freedom of speech at a level where it can be classified as a constructive argument or as constructive criticism.
It is important to highlight that the sensitivity of this matter infers from the fact that the right to the freedom of speech and the concept of applying limitations upon it comes forth only when a controversy is at hand or a debate is taking place in which two different contexts are being compared and evaluated.
In the following paragraphs, the legitimacy of the concept of the applications of limitations upon freedom of speech will be evaluated. The justification for the limitations on the freedom of speech will be given as a contrast to the natural occurrence of events and the role that misconceptions play in the occurrence of an event where limitations upon the freedom of speech have to be exercised.
The applications of limitations on the freedom of speech are justified in light of the fact that freedom of speech is more than often exploited to encourage the formation and exploitation of mobs. Over time, this particular genre of the exploitation has been used countless times to incite violence and to cultivate elements of hostility in the general public.
Also, there is also much confusion and debate regarding the implementation of censorship and whether or not it is justified in the ends it aims to achieve. A massively shared opinion regarding censorship is that the limitations enforced through censorship handicap the generation and development of creativity (National Coalition Against Censorship, 2008). In reality, censorship when appropriately exercised is implemented using a case-by-case method of reasoning. Each individual case is given the degree of scrutiny it is due (Caroline West, 2004). Hence, censorship does not serve to diminish creativity, but allows for the amplification of productive creativity.
It is necessary to draw the line between the freedom of speech, and the exploitation of the freedom of speech. It is the freedom of speech that should be promoted rather than the vulgarity of the exploitation of the freedom of speech (Generation Europe , 2006). Exploitation of the freedom of speech has more than often been used to exercise crude attitudes in the political dimension.
Limits have to be recognized and exercised upon the freedom of speech. This is important because at a number of times, the independence to sound the thought that a person has about a certain subject or person may be in sharp contradiction to the values of another person or to the rights that the other person has.
There are two principles that can be used to elaborate upon the relationship between the limitations on the freedom of speech, and the exploitation of the freedom of speech. The “Harm Principle” presented by John Mill in 1859 is of the opinion that speech should be allowed to be independent and free of all limitations no matter how offensive an individual or a group may find it to be.
Joel Feinberg, in 1985, argued that there should be a line drawn between offending a person or group and harming a person or group, where punishments for harming a second party should be of a higher degree as compared to that dispensed upon the offending of a second party. However the consideration of the second party should not be left out of the equation in both the dimensions of the infliction of discomfort. Feinberg goes on to suggest that the limitations on speech should be exercised after having evaluated the variables of a scenario where a second part is or can be offended (David van Mill, 2002). According to Feinberg, these variables include the social value of the speech in the originating environment and the environment of the second party, the populace offended, the bent of mind with which the offensive statement was made and the intensity of the offensive statement.
It is necessary to mention here that the aspect of promoting the application of limitations on speech is largely fueled by the opinion of the consequences that the violation of the sanctity of the freedom of speech can cause. This is also complimented by the reasoning that apart from the listener, the exploitation of the freedom of speech can cause just as much or maybe even more harm to the speaker. This may occur because of a deficiency in the knowledge that the speaker has regarding the subject of discussion. This may in turn lead to a deficiency in knowledge regarding the consequences of the release of the knowledge that the speaker is dispensing in his speech.
For instance, if we choose to describe the probability of the occurrence of a harmful event by two degrees, certainty of the occurrence of the event and danger of the occurrence of the event, the subjects involved will be stopped from entering the area where the event may occur if the probability is to the heights of certainty. However, if only the danger of the occurrence of the event exists, then the subject party will be only warned of the possibility of the harm that might be cause to them from the occurrence of the event. Hence we can infer that the extent of probable damage defines the degree of intervention that must be exercised in matters where harm can occur due to an event or a series of events. Taken to the realm of speech and its implications, the same pattern can be applied and when done so, it is observed that the possibility of harm coming from the exploitation of the freedom of speech is observable only when it is at its peak and the need for intervention becomes undeniable.
It is necessary to highlight here that the reason for the application of limitations on the freedom of speech is not because of issues of immorality but because of the disrespect of the frame of reference of the rights and values of another person.
In a moderate minded society of people, free speech is promoted but only to enhance productivity through productive criticism. Respect is given to external parties where a violation of rights or values may lead to the origination of a destructive element. It is clear to see that the Harm Principle has a much narrow span in this regard as compared to the Offence Principle by John Mill. However, even the Offence Principle does not complete the job of regulating the discouraging of elements of expression of speech that may be found to be of an offensive nature. This is so because the offence principle allows most offense expressions that may be hurtful or unpleasant to escape from being detected and halted. Taken to related aspects of human behavior, both the principles would fail to an extent such that they would not even allow the efficient exercising of law in a society.
In other words, an exploitation of the freedom of speech that begins from hate speech can come as far as behavior of the people in public settings and can have disastrous consequences for the members of that society or of an external society who have a varying set of values and/or rights.
Probably the most widely encouraged reason for the promotion of the freedom of speech is the propagated by concept that the uninterrupted freedom of speech is essential for the existence of a society where the foundations are based upon the democracy. Yet critics are of the opinion that it is precisely in a democratic society that the varying rights and values of second parties should be given their due respect. For scenarios of such nature, legalization is often suggested as a means to draw the line between freedom of speech and the exploitation of the freedom of speech in order to exercise limitations on the independence to voice ones opinion without disrespecting or violating civil and liberal rights or morals of an external individual or group of people.
Caroline West. (2004, May 5). Pornography and Censorship. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/pornography-censorship/
David van Mill. (2002, November 29). Freedom of Speech. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/freedom-speech/#Con
Generation Europe . (2006). Should there be a limit to free speech and if so where? . Retrieved January 28, 2009, from http://www.generation-europe.eu.com/drupal_prev_v1/node/192
National Coalition Against Censorship. (2008). The Coalition. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from http://www.ncac.org/