Hateful Counterspeech

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 26 (4):533-554 (2022)
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Faced with hate speech, oppressed groups can use their own speech to respond to their verbal oppressors. This “counterspeech,” however, sometimes itself takes on a hateful form. This paper explores the moral standing of such “hateful counterspeech.” Is there a fundamental moral asymmetry between hateful counterspeech, and the hateful utterances of dominant or oppressive groups? Or are claims that such an asymmetry exists indefensible? I argue for an intermediate position. There _is_ a key moral asymmetry between these two forms of speech. But, this asymmetry notwithstanding, hateful counterspeech is capable of enacting serious harms—and so, contrary to what many legal theorists have argued, it is in principle an appropriate object of legal regulation. I begin by considering the central argument for thinking that hateful counterspeech is not seriously troubling. This argument holds that oppressed groups lack authority—and, by extension, “speaker power.” Yet this argument, I suggest, sits in tension with the fact that low-status members of dominant groups can, through their utterances, seriously harm members of oppressed groups. Philosophers of language have developed sophisticated arguments to explain this last phenomenon: they have argued that speaker power is relativised to particular jurisdictions; that it can be acquired dynamically in local settings; and that it is socially dispersed. I argue that, in light of these arguments, it appears that hateful counterspeech, too, can generate serious harms. Nevertheless, I show that this conclusion is compatible with recognising a crucial moral asymmetry between hateful counterspeech and the hate speech of oppressors.



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Maxime C. Lepoutre
University of Reading

References found in this work

Slurring Perspectives.Elisabeth Camp - 2013 - Analytic Philosophy 54 (3):330-349.
Slurs, roles and power.Mihaela Popa-Wyatt & Jeremy L. Wyatt - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (11):2879-2906.
Differentiating hate speech: a systemic discrimination approach.Katharine Gelber - 2021 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 24 (4):393-414.
Democratic speech in divided times: An introduction.Maxime Lepoutre - 2023 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 22 (3):290-293.
Dignity, Harm, and Hate Speech.Robert Mark Simpson - 2013 - Law and Philosophy 32 (6):701-728.

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