CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996
A Plea to Ignore the Consequences of Free Speech, by Susan Dwyer
A Consequentialist Argument Against Free Speech
A consequentialist will typically argue against free speech restrictions on the grounds that such legislation will have bad long-term effects which would be far worse than the benefit of the restrictions. Underlying this claim are two ideas: one, that the point of allowing free speech is to reach "the truth;" and second, that we cannot know in advance which views are true. Given a state of ignorance, then, it is best to allow as many views as possible to have an airing.
[ Ess uses Dwyer's argument against consquentialism as part of his argument against false dilemmas. ]
In the context of a racist and sexist society, however, this consequentialist approach is disingenuous. It requires that we allow hurtful speech without being told of the good outcome of doing so. A yet-unspecified good future pales in the face of current injustice.
Consequentialist arguments for the restriction of pornography will largely be unsuccessful. Instead, I propose an alternative.