Hate Speech, Sex Speech, Free Speech

By Nicholas Wolfson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
PRAGMATISM AND WORDS
THAT HURT

In a homogenous and closed society there are certain moral absolutes that none question. As Thomas Pangle put it, " Plato and Aristotle were convinced that all societies--even, or especially healthy republics--are necessarily closed. Every society will have certain fundamental sanctities or moral absolutes whose doubt is truly upsetting to that society, and that a responsible philosopher will in public treat with the greatest caution."1

In such a society, voluntary and virtually unanimous agreement on core principles can guide speech censors. But as Pangle points out, quoting Spinoza, we live in a society where "every man may think as he pleases, and say what he thinks."2 We live in a diverse, relativistic, cynical, fractious, divided, and contentious society, one with bitter cultural divisions over sex, family, values, and fundamental goals of life.

There is a danger in facilitating debate about explosive core issues.3 As Socrates said:

We have convictions [perhaps fewer of us in today's world] from our childhood about just and noble things, convictions under which we were brought up . . . and then there are other practices opposed to these convic

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