October 28, 2009

Question: Freedom of Expression

Question: Are there any circumstances in which freedom of expression should be curtailed?  If so, on what grounds?  If not, why not?

Feel free to post your comments on this below, and I'll post a response this Friday (30th)


- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Sue Spriggs

    Freedom of Expression – yes there are. When you may give serious offence to a person who will not understand and where no real point is made when doing so.

    28 Oct 2009, 16:01

  2. Graham Hiscock

    A deceptively simple question, but raisng a number of complex issues. Perhaps just two brief comments:

    Expression – regardless of whether it is spoken or written seems to me to be a sub-set of human action. We seem to routinely accept that our actions should be limited, not least because of their actual or potential consequences. I cannot drive my car at 100 mph because the potential consequences are dangerous; I cannot punch someone on the nose because it will cause injury. Expressing a point of view may equally, if perhaps indirectly, cause harm – for example by inciting racial or religious hatred.

    Secondly, I think there is an issue of context – expressing a potentially dangerous or harmful point if view in a private situatuion – for example, within a family, or with a small group of like-minded people – is perhaps less objectionable than expressing the same sentiments in a public forum. The former is unlikely to have the same nehative consequences as the latter.

    28 Oct 2009, 16:19

  3. Ian Stubbs

    I would hope there would be very few circumstances where freedom of expression (in public) should be curtailed as it is by the interplay of new and different ideas that society and culture is challenged and invigorated. For me, the circumstances would be where there is a deliberate attempt to promote the dehumanisation of or harm to others and to undermine the common good. I would be against the curtailment of freedom of expression merely where offence is, or might be, caused and that would include giving offence to religious believers.

    28 Oct 2009, 17:15

  4. I think the answer one gives will often depend upon one’s own ideological perspective to some extent, but my view would be that freedom of expression should face few limitations. Those limitations that do exist should be in cases where particular forms of freedom of expression would lead to demonstrable harm to another, or in other extraordinary circumstances. I think views that many oppose, even that many find repugnant, should not be censored simply for that reason as there is a danger that if a society imposes censorship upon views it finds unpalatable, then that principle can be readily abused to silence the views of any minority or indeed individual for that matter, leading to a lifeless consensus devoid of the kind of invigoration and free exchange of ideas alluded to in a prior post.

    I do think however that even societies with a more libertarian outlook will necessarily have to impose restrictions upon certain forms of expression and will therefore always be challenged on an ongoing basis to find the appropriate balance between what is permissible and what should be curtailed.

    28 Oct 2009, 17:45

  5. Patrick Hampshire

    I think that there is an issue with the concept of ‘expression’. What does ‘expression’ mean in this context? Human expression is a function of personhood, it is something that I do that marks me out as a person and I express myself in that context. By person here I don’t mean ‘individual’. Both the concept of person and expression imply relationship and communication. Surely the question here is whether the concept ‘expression’ is invested with a pejorative meaning. If I express myself I can do this both consciously and subconsciously. Are we dealing here with conscious expression solely? I think the question needs refining if it is going to be a springboard for meaningful discussion. Any more clues would be helpful.

    28 Oct 2009, 21:41


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