Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Speech Qua Speech

The term "absolute" only harms my argument if my definition of freedom of speech does not already exclude the sorts of cases MotJuste and I agree should be punishable. My contention is that free speech can be reasonably construed in a way that does already exclude those cases. I think that the "absolute" issue is a red herring here. MotJuste responds to my argument about accidental impedement of speech:

The above all seems both obvious and irrelevent. How do they support the point
of your beleif in absolute speech, or the statement that "free speech does not
mean you can say whatever you want"? Unless your point is 'you can't say what
you want if you're mute/dead' which, duh. You also cannot say what you want if
you're too stupid to express it, or don't know the language you wish to speak
in, or are unconcious, or are a potted plant, etc. Irrelevent.
Perhaps I should have qualified the term and said I believe in absolute legal freedom of speech. (i.e. congress shall make no law...) I had assumed that we were using the term as shorthand for something like the 1st amendment.Anyhow, I hope an example will clear up what I mean by speech as speech.

MotJuste writes:

The will to perform a violent act is not punishable by law. It is the physical
action taken-- speech-- that is punished. Speech which is an incitement to
violence is a kind of speech and therefore if it is limited, speech is not
absolutely free.
This is false. Unless I've somehow missed the point. If I hold a large knife up to someone and say "I will kill you with this now," the law recognizes this as grounds for intervention. However, if a theater actor on stage says the exact same words to another actor, this is not grounds for intervention. But I can also be arrested for attempted murder if I swing a knife at someone and am stopped before it kills that person.Case 1: speech and punishmentCase 2: speech and no punishmentCase 3: punishment and no speechClearly, speech is not the criterion here. In case 1 and case 3, assuming no actual physical wound is made, what is being punished is clearly the will to act. If we somehow knew that the assailant meant to run up to someone with a knife, swing, and then stop the blade before it touched the other person, attempted murder would not be the appropriate charge. At the same time, freedom of speech does not protect us from actions that accidentally -- that is, with some other goal in mind -- impede speech.Otherwise, we could not punish people on the basis of confessions or guilty pleas.To put it simply, freedom of speech means that there must be no restriction that simply states "you may not say [x]."


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