Hate Speech, the Priority of Liberty, and the Temptations of Nonideal Theory

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (3):353-68 (2012)
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Abstract
Are government restrictions on hate speech consistent with the priority of liberty? This relatively narrow policy question will serve as the starting point for a wider discussion of the use and abuse of nonideal theory in contemporary political philosophy, especially as practiced on the academic left. I begin by showing that hate speech (understood as group libel) can undermine fair equality of opportunity for historically-oppressed groups but that the priority of liberty seems to forbid its restriction. This tension between free speech and equal opportunity creates a dilemma for liberal egalitarians. Nonideal theory apparently offers an escape from this dilemma, but after examining three versions of such an escape strategy, I conclude that none is possible: liberal egalitarians are indeed forced to choose between liberty and equality in this case and others. I finish the paper by examining its implications for other policy arenas, including markets in transplantable human organs and women’s reproductive services.
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First archival date: 2015-11-21
Latest version: 3 (2015-11-21)
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On Liberty and Other Essays.Mill, John Stuart (ed.)

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