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Should freedom of speech be absolute or should there be restrictions on

Should freedom of speech be absolute or should there be restrictions on publishing material that is offensive to religious sensitivities, particularly if publication serves no particular public interest?

As well as the important question of principle (which I shall largely leave to others), there are ipmortant practical questions here: Exactly which religious sensitivities should be given legal standing? What counts as offense? How should it be determined whether publication serves a particular public interest? Perhaps more importantly, by whom should it be determined?

And why limit it to speech? To borrow from a recent column in the Boston Globe by Jeff Jacoby (with whose overall point I do not actually agree), should the eating of beef be banned on the ground that it is offensive to Hindus? Should women be forced to "cover up" on the ground that the display of female flesh is offensive to many extreme traditionalists? Quite apart from the question of principle, this does not seem a road down which one really wants to travel.

For that matter, why limit it to religious sensibilities? There's a lot that offends me, some for religious reasons, some not. Why privilege the former?

None of that is to say that anyone should publish material that offends religious sensibilities, or needlessly offends for any other reason. It's simply to say that it's not a good idea to have laws that prohibit the publication of such material.

Is it wrong to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet?

Is it wrong to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet? I think the law should be changed to take away the protection of copyright. What do you think?

I'm going to comment on the question of whether copyright laws arein fact justified, rather than the question Bernard Gert addresses,namely, of whether it is morally wrong in general to violate laws(though in passing I can't stop myself observing that, when it comes tointernet activities, it's not always obvious which country's lawsshould apply).

One possible view of copyright (and ofintellectual property generally) is that the creators of such propertyhave an absolute right of ownership, and that the job of the law issimply to protect this right.

But an alternative view is thatintellectual property is a socio-legal construction (however it is withother forms of property) and that the job of the law is (a) to allowthe public to maximally benefit from the creation, while at the sametime (b) ensuring that there are sufficient incentives to encourage thecreation in the first place.

Nearly all systems of modern law arebased on the second view, as is shown by the fact that they place a timelimit on the period for which creators can control their creations(twenty years for patents, seventy years after publication/creator'sdeath for works of art, and so on).

From the perspective ofthis second view, it clearly makes sense that there should be someincentives for creators. But this leaves it open exactly how the balanceshould be struck between legal protection for creators and allowing the public tobenefit. (This conflict is most obvious in the case of life-savingtreatments patented by drug corporations, but the point is general.)

Inpractice, the legal balance is struck as a result of politic0-legalprocesses in which the creators' representatives argue for greaterownership rights, and and the consumers' representatives for morefreedom.

In general, the creators' representatives invest vastlymore resources in this process than the consumers' representatives.(Moreover, at an international level, the creators' countries generallyhave vastly more power that the consumers' countries.)

Giventhis, and applying Bernard Gert's test, it is hard to believe that anyfully informed 'impartial rational' person would regard the currentlaws of intellectual property as justified.

A friend of mine claims that the Iraq war was not 'illegal' as there are (and

A friend of mine claims that the Iraq war was not 'illegal' as there are (and were) no laws in place that could allow it to be defined as such. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, is there an agreed set of philosophical principles that allow for war to be defined as 'legal/illegal' (and not just moral/immoral)? How might we go about discussing the legalities of war on an international scale? Alastair

One of the criteria philosophers generally agree upon for just war is "legitimate authority"--that is, a just war must be authorized in legitimate (usually meaning lawful) ways. The United Nations charter and the U.S. Constitution, for example, set out procedures for properly authorizing war, as will the legal codes of most nations. To evaluate the legality of this war, one must extablish whether those procedures were followed in proper ways. In particular, here you should look at whether the U.S. Congress authorized the war and whether the U.N. Security Council authorized the war. (See Articles 39, 42, 51 of the UN Charter; also see Security Council Resolution 1441; see the U.S. Congress's Joint resolution on the war of October 2002.) Another issue to consider is whether or not, even if authorization was given, the authorization was rendered illegitimate or void since it was predicated on deceitful claims about the nature of the threat posed by Iraq. You may also consider whether any "customs," "norms," or "informal conventions" of international relations legitimate the war.

There've been a lot of questions recently about how far different cultural

There've been a lot of questions recently about how far different cultural values can be reconciled with the law of a country (assuming the law is secular). It seems easier to answer extreme questions like whether female genital mutilation should be permitted (no in my opinion), or something much milder like whether headscarves and other religious dress should be banned in schools (no in my opinion again), but what about the questions that fall somewhere in between? For example, is it right to force Sikh people who can't cover their turbans with anything to wear helmets when they ride a bike, and to punish them when they don't? How far can you force people to obey the law where there might only be a potential risk to them if they don't, but there will definitely be harm to their religious or cultural beliefs? Thank you for answering.

The question does not seem to me to have a general answer. But you have left out at least one of the factors that must be taken into account. Helmet laws (for bicycles and motorcycles) are not just for the protection of the riders. These laws also protect those who are dependent upon the riders and those who may be involved in accidents with the riders. For example, does a fatal head injury resulting from being hit by a car--which may well not have occurred, had the rider being wearing a helmet--put some legal limit on the degree to which the driver of the car, if he or she was at fault, may be punished or sued for the fatality? There needs to be a balance struck between the legitimate interests of society generally and the private interests of individuals (which plainly include freedom of religious expression). But I see no reason to think that freedom of religion or freedom of expression (religious and otherwise) cannot be trumped by the authentic requirements of civil society. So, for example, even if certain forms of hate speech are supported by some religion or other (a debatable point, but it seems to me that the two are often actually connected), I see no reason why that should prevent the passage and enforcement of laws against hate speech.

I am a police officer and I have a dilemma. Everyday I see people destroyed from

I am a police officer and I have a dilemma. Everyday I see people destroyed from the effects of alcohol abuse. I have seen innocent people killed by people under the influence of alcohol. In some instances it was two drunks arguing and one killed another or once a drunk husband shot and killed his wife in front of their children. Then there are the drunk drivers who indiscriminately kill I’ve seen several of those. Now I can say that I have definitely never seen someone killed by another person under the influence of marihuana. I have never seen anyone killed by a driver under the influence of marihuana. I have never seen a person die because they smoked themselves to death, but I have seen quite a few people drink themselves to death. Then I look at the potential medical value of marihuana and when I combine all these things I am beginning to feel that morally I am falling off of a cliff. One-day history may judge me to be a 21st century Nazi. If I deliberately do not make arrests for violations of...

Well, you're in a tough position. (And I agree with you: I see no reason marijuana should be outlawed when alcohol and tobacco are not.) But I don't think you're likely to be compared to the Nazis. So you should let yourself off a bit. Still, as I said, you are in a tough position. I take it that deliberately not busting people for pot could get you in a fair bit of trouble, even fired.

Obviously, if you felt sufficiently strongly about this issue, you might find yourself with little choice but to quit being a cop. That'd be a tough choice to make, I'm sure. So I wonder if there are alternatives.

To what extent is it possible for you to speak out on this issue, given your profession? The issue of mandatory sentencing is a very important one here. Could you speak out on that issue?

In Question 325 (is there a difference between justice and law), Peter Lipton

In Question 325 (is there a difference between justice and law), Peter Lipton said that a law can be unjust. Reading it, I couldn't move past that question, because if a law is unjust, shouldn't it arguably lose its status as law? I mean it might be a law technically, written down on paper as law, but surely it can only have bad consequences if people follow it and understand it to be law - like the laws regarding Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany. Is this a valid point at all?

I'm inclined to think, yes, that if a law is unjust it should lose its status as a law, but it doesn't immediately follow that one has no obligation to follow that law. In the case of profoundly unjust laws, such as those regarding Jews in Nazi Germany, presumably it would, at least, be permissible not to follow the law. But there are many other laws that might be regarded as unjust that are far less oppressive. One might suppose one had an obligation to follow such laws out of a kind of respect for the law. What one ought to do instead might be to attempt to get the law changed. Of course, in some cases, publicly and openly refusing to follow the law might be a way of drawing attention to its injustice: That's civil disobedience, in its simplest form.


Hello I am an Australian and there is a lot of anger here at the moment: an Australian citizen was caught transporting drugs in a different country, where that offence carries the death penalty. The person in question is about to be hung. In Australia, the man would have faced a jail term, but here the death penalty seems far too excessive for the crime. The government of the country about to execute the man claims it is doing so in the interests of its citizens; seeking to protect them from illegal drug trafficking by showing strong intolerance to it. Many people here are angry because the man was only a drug mule: a naive person tricked (or blackmailed) into carrying a package of white powder for powerful drug organisations: key figures in which seem immune to law even though they seem to be the real villains. In another recent case, an Australian citizen travelled to another nearby country, with which Australia enjoys friendly relations. This man did something there that would be completely legal...

It is worth distinguishing two issues: anger that another country applies its laws to one of our citizens; and anger that another country (any country, actually) applies unjust laws to one of our citizens (to anyone, actually).

Though your question seems more focused on the former issue, I think you are really more exercised by the latter. You would be very strongly opposed to Australia hanging a "mule" and to Australia punishing a man for having homosexual relations. And you would not be upset, I guess, if an Australian abroad received a punishment you consider just for some culturally specific crime that does not exist in Australia (e.g., having sex with a woman on the basis of a false promise to marry her while knowing that such sex will make her a total and permanent outcast in her community).

As it happens, I am also in Australia and saw a poll last night showing that 47% of Australians want the hanging to go ahead, while 46% are opposed to it. I suppose those 47% think it is alright for someone to be hanged for smuggling 400 grams of heroin and, given that they find this alright, they don't mind it being done by foreigners (assuming the man had a fair trial and so on).

In sum, then, I think we should think about criminal law at home and abroad together, against the background of one single conception of justice. This conception must recognize that the criminal law must be adapted to cultural conditions which may vary from country to country. (In Australia, justice would not be served by jailing men for using a false promise of marrige to entice a women to have sex; but in some very religious countries justice might well be served by such a law.) This conception must further recognize that in some countries harsher punishments for some offense may be appropriate because this type of offense is there more frequent or more harmful or harder to suppress (think of the offense of lighting a fire without a permit). And this conception must also recognize that there is a considerable element of judgment involved in settling upon appropriate punishments: There can be reasonable disagreement over whether a drug smuggling offence of the sort you cite should, in a context like Singapore's, fetch six months in jail or two years. But, contrary to what 47% of your compatriots seem to believe, hanging this young man is a clearcut injustice.

What is the relationship between law and morality? Is the law simply a branch

What is the relationship between law and morality? Is the law simply a branch of morality?

Some so-called natural lawyers have claimed that the idea of an immoral law is an oxymoron. If some state diktat says that people of a certain race can't travel into certain areas, then that's not a law. That's fine -- but essentially it involves giving a new and special meaning to the word 'law'. Law and morality can be seen as analogous in various ways. They have a similar structure (both involve requirements, permissions, demands, etc.); they serve similar functions (such as coercing people into certain behaviour for social purposes); and they probably have similar origins (see e.g. the work of the anthropologist Christopher Boehm on this). If one sees both law and morality as essentially forms of social coercion, then one is not a branch of the other. In the case of each, we can ask ourselves whether we have a reason to accept it, or parts of it, and whether it can be improved in some way or other.

If, as George Washington said, "All government is force," is not resistance to

If, as George Washington said, "All government is force," is not resistance to government a necessary and morally superior corollary to resistance to force in general?

That may be a corollary to the general claim that one ought to resist all force. But is the general claim true? Presumably, the thought behind the general claim is that all force is morally wrong and so resistance to it is morally permissible if not required. But is all force morally wrong? This is one way of casting the central topic in political philosophy: whether, and if so under what conditions, the state could have the right to use force over individuals to compel compliance with its commands. Anarchism takes the answer to be No. Utilitarian and social contract approaches believe the answer is Yes: under certain conditions, the establishment of a state that wields power over individuals can be justified. (See Question 452 for some references.)

Is there such thing as true freedom? (My thought is that only in an anarchist

Is there such thing as true freedom? (My thought is that only in an anarchist society there would be-meaning that even the slightest rule or law would detain one's freedom to do as one pleases...)

It's worth distinguishing between what one is free to do and what valueto one that freedom has. Perhaps you're right that in a world in whichthere was no political society (a State of Nature, as some politicalphilosophers call it) we would be free to do many more things than weare now (since no laws would exist that restrict our freedom). But the worthof those freedoms would be very small. Yes, we'd be free to travelwherever we wanted (without the need for passports, etc.), but mostlikely, absent the security that a political society provides, thelevel of industrial development would be so low that there would be nocars, no planes, no roads, etc. Even if there were roads, it would beso very dangerous to set out on them that I wouldn't dare risk it.Whereas now, my freedom to travel is worth something to me: I can drive(I have a car, I can buy fuel for it, there are roads!) confidently tothe airport (there are airports!) and take a plane (there's anaerospace industry!) to Reykjavik. The freedom to fly to Reykjavikisn't worth much if there are no planes, no cars, no roads, no safetraveling.

So, even if you thought that freedom (the absence ofconduct-regulating laws enforced by the power of the state) is a goodthing and that freedom would be increased living in a State of Nature,reasonable people might still choose to live in a political societywith a government that restricts their freedoms, because the freedoms they would have would be of value to them. (See also Question 291.)