Nigel Warburton, Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
Chapter 1: Free Speech
1. Warburton mentions the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 19 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
How is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms relevant in this context?
A portion of the charter states that free speech is a right that every Canadian has and that that
liberty will never be restricted
Essentially says the same thing as the first amendment
2. What are the two main questions addressed in this book?
What is the value of free speech?
What limits should we set to free speech?
3. What is the link between free speech and democracy?
Government without free speech would not be legitimate and should not be called ‘democratic’
Laws and policies are not legitimate unless they have been adopted through a democratic
process, and a process is not democratic unless if government has prevented anyone from
expressing about what those laws and policies should be
4. What counts as speech?
It can be anything expressing an idea
Includes not only the spoken word
Any expression such as writings, plays, cartoons, films, paintings, photos
5. Describe the distinction between negative freedom and positive freedom.
Negative freedom is the absence of constraint – free to do whatever you want in a negative
Positive freedom is the freedom actually to achieve what you want to do
6. What does Herbert Marcuse mean by “repressive tolerance”?
Lack of censorship does not mean that freedom will be exercised in any worthwhile way
In societies where the media is controlled free speech can be used as a way of censorship
The censorship of ‘regressive movements’ is intolerance in the name of tolerance
7. When should speech be limitedh? There must be limits on free speech
One should not be able to slander others, mislead consumers with false advertising, release
state secrets, child porn ect.
Copyright infringement, major intrusion in ones life,
8. Give examples of Warburton’s two types of argument -- instrumental and moral -- for free speech.
Instrumental arguments for free speech claim that it provides tangible benefits of some kind
Moral arguments claim that you are restricting what it is to be human, a restriction on
9. What are the main facts in the two examples Warburton discusses (the Satanic Verses and the Danish
cartoons)? Why does he describe these two cases?
A western publication offending Muslims
These two cases are extremes of when a publisher pushes the limits on free speech, goes into
the grey zone of religion
Chapter 2: A Free Market in Ideas?
1. What is the “harm principle” and on what grounds does Mill defend it?
That individuals should have the freedom to do whatever they want right up until they harm
another person in the process
Mills justification is the belief that preserving individual freedoms are paramount and by
tolerating diversity society would maximize happiness
This creates the best consequences, not the least
2. Briefly summarize the Millian arguments identified by Warburton: the infallibility argument, the dead
dogma argument, and the partly true argument.
The infallibility argument is when one completely discounts someone else’s argument because
they are completely certain they are correct. When one does this they assume a position of