(Scanlon 1972) A theory of freedom of expression

Scanlon, Thomas. A theory of freedom of expression. Philosophy and Public Affairs. 1972 Winter; 1(2):204–226. Available from: http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/SCANLONfreeexpression.pdf. Accessed 2012 Mar 15. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/66C5mgDbA.

Scanlon frames the problem of freedom of expression as a limitation on the state’s right to regulate the actions of its citizens. He rejects the common approach of demarcating certain types of actions as “speech acts” and barring them from being regulated by the state; the relevant types of actions are too difficult to define and too dependent on context. Instead, Scanlon bars the state from using force or exerting legal authority to control or manipulate a citizen’s opinions and thought processes, regardless of how that control is accomplished or which of the citizen’s actions the state would like to influence thereby. Freedom of expression is a manifestation of individual autonomy; in effect, of freedom from totalitarian mind control. The state may not limit the opinions to which a citizen will be exposed, or otherwise attempt to manipulate the citizen’s decisionmaking processes. Scanlon also considers the classical argument that the public will attain knowledge of the truth more readily if consideration of a variety of opinions is allowed. He believes that autonomy provides a more robust justification for freedom of expression, but acknowledges that there can be multiple distinct valid arguments supporting this freedom.


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Last revision: March 1, 2013