Pornography, Verbal Acts, and Viewpoint Discrimination

Public Affairs Quarterly 12 (4):429-445 (1998)
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Catharine MacKinnon argues that pornography is action, rather than speech. She argues further that the speech/action distinction is what delineates the scope of the First Amendment. It follows, she thinks, that pornography does not fall within the scope of the First Amendment. I argue that the legal distinction between speech and action on which MacKinnon relies is unstable and therefore cannot determine which utterances fall within the scope of the First Amendment. Indeed, attempting to sort utterances by means of the speech/action distinction in order to make this determination can lead to a paradox, which I call the “viewpoint paradox”. That an utterance expresses a particular viewpoint is typically sufficient for its qualifying as speech; yet MacKinnon’s argument that pornography is not speech pivots are her claim that it is an act of subordination because it expresses a particular viewpoint about women.

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Cynthia A. Stark
University of Utah


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