Hate Speech and Distorted Communication: Rethinking the Limits of Incitement

Law and Philosophy 34 (3):299-324 (2015)
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Hate speech is commonly defined with reference to the legal category of incitement. Laws targeting incitement typically focus on how the speech is expressed rather than its actual content. This has a number of unintended consequences: first, law tends to capture overt or obvious forms of hate speech and not hate speech that takes the form of ‘reasoned’ argument, but which nevertheless, causes as much, if not more harm. Second, the focus on form rather than content leads to categorization errors. Hate speech taking the form of ‘reasoned argument’ is often legally characterized as either political or academic debate, and so is deemed both permissible and justified in societies where free speech principles exist. In this paper, I argue that it is important to identify instances of hate speech as hate speech, no matter how articulately or reasonably the speech is expressed. The danger in mischaracterizing an instance of hate speech by calling it academic or political debate is that it risks normalizing the views and sentiments that are expressed and accepting those views as an important part of our political and academic discourses. With reference to Habermas’ account of ‘distorted communication’, I propose different criteria for defining and understanding hate speech and suggest that there might be good reasons for interpreting the concept of incitement more broadly, so as to include these different kinds of it



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Citations of this work

Against ‘Hate Speech’.Dirk Kindermann - 2023 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 40 (5):813-835.

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References found in this work

The autonomy defense of free speech.Susan Brison - 1998 - Ethics 108 (2):312-339.
Speech and Harm: Controversies Over Free Speech.Ishani Maitra & Mary Kate McGowan (eds.) - 2012 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Freedom of expression.Joshua Cohen - 1993 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (3):207-263.
Does Freedom of Speech Include Hate Speech?Caleb Yong - 2011 - Res Publica 17 (4):385-403.

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