Freedom of Speech: Words Are Not Deeds

Freedom of Speech: Words Are Not Deeds

Freedom of Speech: Words Are Not Deeds

Freedom of Speech: Words Are Not Deeds

Synopsis

This work provides a philosophical framework within which the free speech clause of the Constitution's First Amendment may be understood. While much has been written on the First Amendment, this work is unique in offering an historically based thesis illuminating a point virtually ignored in the literature--the absolutist quality of the free speech clause and the philosophical dualism (words/deeds) on which it is based. Given the increasingly powerful forces favoring group rights in order to generate laws which would silence "offensive" speech, this book provides a radical challenge to the frameworks within which many such contemporary arguments are cast. It also reminds putative censors of the very special role free speech plays in any democratic community which aims to be self-governing.

Excerpt

I have long been interested in the uses to which certain philosophical ideas and principles have been put in the service of one or another political or ideological doctrine. Some years ago my research was focused on the late seventeenth-century development of racist ideas and their roots in empiricist thought, as well as on the opposition to racism generated within rationalist/dualist thought. As I explored the ways in which empiricist and rationalist/dualist ideas interacted, I realized that many of the same factors were at work in articulating, defending, and attacking the free-speech principle. That realization prompted the research for this book.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, the Bill of Rights, a series of ten amendments, was appended to the newly framed Constitution of the United States. the First Amendment specifies that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." This radically absolutist formulation appears to have no historical antecedents in earlier declarations. It is, however, my contention that the philosophical foundations of this position can, in whole or in part, be found in the arguments that Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) advances favoring religious toleration. By philosophical foundations I have in mind the ontologically grounded mind/body dualism articulated by Descartes and the account of human nature consequent upon it, together with the placing of human speech on the side of mind. Although I am very sympathetic to the absolutist interpretation of the free-speech principle, my concerns in this book are more philosophical and historical than polemical. My second interest is to suggest how, in the light of the more empiricist doctrine of human nature that achieves priority in the nineteenth century, one can understand the shift from "freedom of speech . . ."

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