Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

Stephen Downes has commented on a discussion of free speech issues at the University of California but I think his focus on intended harm as the only excuse for restricting freedom of speech is too limited.

Normally, the criterion of intentionality applies to the actual performance of the illegal act rather than its consequences. For example If I drive on city streets at 140km/h as a result of a stuck accelerator I may be blameless, but if I intended to go that fast then I am guilty – regardless of the fact that the street is empty and I think my act is harmless (and also regardless of whether I can claim to be unaware of the speed limit as “ignorance of the law is no excuse”). While freedom of expression certainly has much greater value for its own sake than freedom to feel the thrill of speed, there may be situations where it is reasonable to demand some level of due care and attention to the consequences of a speech even if those consequences may not be intended by the speaker (and even if the adverse consequences involve the actions and culpability of independent agents other than the speaker).

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