Happy Prisoner Festival - Free Speech

It is rare to find anyone speaking openly against ‘free speech’ in the West. To most its value is undisputed, talked about with near religious reverence. Indeed, arguing against it is likely to appear ironic and self-defeating.  And yet, what actually is this thing we call ‘free speech’? Is speech ‘free’ if everyone has a platform or the ability to speak? Is it free only if there are no meaningful punishments or sanctions as a result of that speech? Or is it possible, as the philosopher Stanley Fish has argued, that no speech is truly free? 

Recently the public debate has largely focused on limits to speech, the disagreement tending to escalate into a full-blown culture war. On one side there are those who argue against ‘cancel culture’ and ‘no platforming’, saying that overt censorship hampers the search for truth and stifles democratic debate. Others counter that a degree of censorship is a necessary corrective to the dominant culture, protecting minority rights and preventing harmful and offensive views from receiving a wider audience. 

Should we judge speech by its consequences or by some principle? What should count as ‘harmful’ speech? Are we more likely to guarantee a thriving democracy by having few restrictions on speech or some censorship?

All conversations will be facilitated by a professional philosopher, trained in philosophical enquiry with The Philosophy Foundation. There will be 4 guest speakers who will begin a conversation around the topics we are exploring. This will be the starting circle conversation, after half an hour the facilitator will invite you, the audience members into the enquiry circle where you can ask questions, raise points or just continue to listen. 

This conversation will be via Zoom and you'll be sent the link and password to join the w/c 22nd March.