Common sense on free speech

Terrific piece by philosopher Onora O’Neill in today’s Guardian

Yet even committed liberals don’t seriously think that rights to free speech are unlimited or unconditional, although they seem to be unsure about which limits should be set. They are often torn between an aspiration to justify free speech as minimal and uncontroversial, and a contrary belief that free speech matters because it is not minimal but powerful. This double vision is well reflected in contemporary tendencies to construe freedom of speech as freedom of expression. Freedom of expression sounds so harmless: merely a matter of expressing oneself, seemingly no more than an aspect of individual privacy. Yet most speech acts are not merely expressive. They are intended to communicate, and may affect, even harm others. The nursery jingle “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is palpably false.