Free speech: an ethical approach
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Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are two hallmark pillars of American magnificence. Such liberties are essential to American democracy and should always be revered and protected. Unfortunately, it is easy for people to misuse these rights and spew hateful, though constitutionally protected, rhetoric. But just because one has the right to say something does not make it ethically right to say. It is my hope that people, for the most part, genuinely want to have open discussions in ethical and respectful manners. In order to do so, people ought to develop and internalize methods that allow them to ethically engage in speech. Ethically engaging in speech is essential as it encourages intellectual diversity while also ensuring that virtually no voice or opinion is silenced. In this thesis, I first review existing literature to explore the pros and cons of arguments for circumscribing speech and for accepting uncensored speech. One side of the debate favors regulations, while the other end of the debate essentially advocates for limitless expressions. This leaves a tough problem with which individuals must grapple because offense is inevitable in society. And in order to negotiate this issue, people should actively try to cultivate strategies that allow them to ethically engage in speech, especially when speaking about sensitive subjects. I then look to John Stuart Mill and Michel Foucault as authorities on developing a code of ethical speech before finally making my own recommendations for ethical speech. In the final chapter, I outline different ways in which people can ethically exercise free speech in everyday, mundane situations such as in public, at work and an educational settings if they so choose. Developing an everyday ethics of free speech is important as we are all sharing this country with millions of other opinionated individuals. We should be seeking to uphold and respect their speech freedoms just as we all presumably want ours respected as well. This can be done if people actively try to develop an ethical approach to engaging in speech. In all three settings, I argue that people should try to not see disagreements as character attacks. I also argue that people who choose to ethically exercise free speech ought to try to mentally prepare to respond to potentially offensive subject matter with respect and composure.