Toleration, Respect for Persons, and the Free Speech Right to do Moral Wrong

In Mitja Sardoč (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Toleration. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 149-172 (2020)
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The purpose of this chapter is to consider the question of whether respect for persons requires toleration of the expression of any extremist political or religious viewpoint within public discourse. The starting point of my discussion is Steven Heyman and Jonathan Quong’s interesting defences of a negative answer to this question. They argue that respect for persons requires that liberal democracies should not tolerate the public expression of extremist speech that can be regarded as recognition-denying or respect-denying speech – that is, speech or other expressive conduct that expresses viewpoints that explicitly reject that all persons should be regarded and treated as free and equal persons or citizens. According to Heyman and Quong, recognition-denying speech falls outside the scope of the right to participate in public discourse (i.e. what it is a right to). In contrast to Heyman and Quong, one can argue that a strong case can be made for viewpoint neutrality on the basis of what can be called a libertarian or Nozickean status-based theory of rights. According to this theory, toleration in a liberal democracy requires respect for the status of persons as thinking agents, and respect for thinking agents and their sovereignty over their own mind requires viewpoint neutrality – that is, a basic right to participate in public discourse as speakers and listeners free from state-imposed viewpoint-based restrictions. All persons should have a basic right to express, hear and consider any viewpoint within public discourse. This doctrine of viewpoint neutrality requires that citizens in liberal democracies ought to have a legal free speech right to do moral wrong – that is, a legal right to express and defend any viewpoint within public discourse, even if it is morally wrong to express, or expose others to, such views.



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Kristian Skagen Ekeli
University Of Stavanger

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References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
The metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1797/1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Mary J. Gregor.
Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.
Liberalism Without Perfection.Jonathan Quong - 2010 - Oxford University Press.

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