I saw a flyer for a talk about this on a college campus. I am thinking of hate speech as specific names that are intended to harm.

Initially, there has to be a motivation for making hate speech. So, the existence of A motivates hate in B.

B therefore tries to satisfy their hatred by harming A (by calling them a name)

A retaliates by trying to harm B (through some sort of punishment for hate speech)

B objects to A retaliating (appealing to freedom of speech)

A objects to B objecting to A retaliating

B objects to A objecting to B Objecting to A retaliating


So it seems like there really isn't a debate but instead some sort of struggle for something impossible, which would be to harm another person without them retaliating. Each side thinks their harm is a form of justice and therefore any retaliation would be disturbing the just order and would therefore require another harm, and this would go on forever. What would be the solution here?

  • Something to ponder: is it possible to prove that nobody will be harmed by your statement, no matter how benign it might be? This suggests that the concept of free speech may be far more nuanced than the first pass that it often receives. – Cort Ammon Mar 6 '16 at 2:16

Karl Popper offers a solution in his book "The Open Society and its Ennemies":

The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

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