Are you a free speech absolutist?

PhiloTalk Forums Subjects Philosophy Axiology Ethics Are you a free speech absolutist?

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    In some societies it is illegal to criticise the actions of the government. As we can see by the example of laws enacted by the Russian government since their invasion of Ukraine, this can take the form of laws forbidding “fake news”, where “fake news” is defined as anything which deviates from the government line. In such a society, it’s impossible to know with any certainty what any person who is subject to those laws really thinks. This is because we know that, unless they want to go to prison, they will always publicly support the government whether or not they privately do. So their public words are rendered meaningless. If you hold a gun to a person’s head and threaten to shoot them unless they state that they agree with you, you immediately guarantee that you will never find out if they agree with you.

    But is it appropriate to counter that kind of oppression by going to the other extreme? What would the other extreme look like? To some free speech absolutists it means that literally all speech is morally neutral and ought not to be subject to any legal sanctions. To those people, this means that, for example, a general who orders his troops to invade another country is not morally culpable. In issuing that order he is merely exercising his right to free speech. It is only those who actually perform those orders who are culpable.

    Do you agree with that position? If not (and if you don’t agree with the oppression of free speech described in the first paragraph) how and where do you draw the line?

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