The US Supreme Court has ruled that the act of spending money (buying political ads) is a form of speech, or, a speech act (political speech). The implication being, of course, that political spending, under the aegis of free speech, cannot be restricted. The notion that spending is a form of speech does not seem straightforward to me.

What philosophical position can be taken to argue either for or against this assertion: "Participation in an institution (money/property) is the same as speaking, using language?"

Is paying for speech really the same as speaking? The corporation, the entity, exists only in the realm of the institution of money. It is a tool to facilitate commerce. It can be said to participate in the institution of money.

An individual or group of individuals express business ideas/intentions through a corporation. But a corporation does not express itself through individuals. There must be an argument concerning the nature of speech which would define the boundary between an individual and an entity such as a corporation.

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    There seem to be a few different questions here; what is the nature of your research? Are you interested in this from a Constitutional Law perspective, or a Philosophical perspective? – Michael Dorfman Sep 30 '12 at 18:47
  • Yes, I agree, several questions. I'm not specifically interested in law, per se. It is the manifestation of the argument by the law which brings up the worry. I see a practical need for an argument because intuitively I find "corporations are people too" a very real danger. – ataraxic Sep 30 '12 at 19:55
  • the argument, if i narrow it down, needs to focus on whether the rights of corporations are redefining the idea of an individual. But I believe that if speech can be isolated as an individual mental act, and spending is part of a collective institution, then the argument for corporate spending fails. – ataraxic Sep 30 '12 at 20:05

The argument that "money equals speech" is actually fairly narrowly drawn; it is not a global philosophical principle. The notion is that because the US Constitution prohibits the restriction of free speech, any restriction on the amount of money one could use to take out political advertisements would be an unconsitutional restriction of the freedom of expression.

This means that the assertion concerning "participation in an institution" being the same as or different from "speaking or using language" is irrelevant to the matter at hand-- what is at stake is limitations on the ways one can choose to make public one's speech acts. Taking out an advertisement endorsing a candidate is viewed as a speech act, but not "participation in an institution" generally.

Furthermore, this entire problematic is orthogonal to the question of whether or not corporations have free speech rights. Since time immemorial, groups of citizens have banded together (ad hoc, or in unions or other organizations) to pool their resources to support a candidate; the question of whether corporations should be excluded from this practice has nothing to do with the "money equals speech" doctrine. If the Supreme Court had ruled that money did not equal speech, and that limits could be placed on the amount of money that an individual or group could spend on political advertising, this would have no bearing on whether or not corporations would be allowed to spend up to that limit.

If the Supreme Court were to hypothetically rule that "speech" for the purposes of the First Amendment applied only to individual mental acts, then any kind of statement on behalf of an organization or political party could be restricted, including documents that begin "We the people..."

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  • How we experience money and how we experience speech seem very different to me. The notion that spending is a form of expression does not seem straightforward to me. – ataraxic Oct 2 '12 at 3:22
  • Obviously participation in the institution of money is different from speaking. – ataraxic Oct 2 '12 at 3:24
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    I know you want to do that; you don't have much to go on, though. If groups of like minded individuals are permitted to publish together, by what logic would you be able to allow unions, political parties, and other organizations and yet exclude corporations? Is not a corporation just one variety of the genus "group of individuals"? As for the first question, you seem to stipulate that "freedom of speech" does not solely cover vocal utterances, but would also cover written expression. If this is the case, would not a limitation on whether and how certain messages are printed be a problem? – Michael Dorfman Oct 2 '12 at 6:47
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    Why is it a problem? Would you prefer to have the Constitution protect only verbal speech, and not written expression? That would mean tossing out freedom of the press, which is the very next phrase in the First Amendment. – Michael Dorfman Oct 2 '12 at 11:07
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    let us continue this discussion in chat – Michael Dorfman Oct 2 '12 at 11:15

Speech is the communication, and money transfer is the action. You could say as well that driving a car is the act of speech, and speed limitations are against the freedom of speech. Neither I think that the Supreme Court needs any philosophical ground for its political actions.

But if you're searching for the arguments, that actions (particularly money transfer) can be classified as speech, you should start with the definition of speech (and the language on the higher level). But the money transfer is the act where the transferrer is doing some act with physical consequences - the steering, not the speech, which is the transfer of information oriented at informing someone else.

IMHO if one company would say another how much money it has, it would be the speech, but sending the money is as less a speach as walking or driving a car.

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  • Thanks, but I see speech as an act, so communication is action. I cannot follow the analogy. Also, there is less physicality in the value of a dollar than in a mental state, so transferring the value of a dollar from one account to another is ephemeral, while a mental state is material. This is why I believe the speech act/mental state should have priority over the institutional act, buying, which is reliant on it. – ataraxic Oct 5 '12 at 0:51
  • But the driving is also the mental state. The impulses are created in brain, and they only result in muscles movement. So is with the money. But those impulses are not the language, neither are bank transfers. It is not speech, therefore. – FolksLord Oct 5 '12 at 7:27
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    Okay, now I get it. I misread the final line in your initial answer. A company announcement=speech. A company purchase of advertising is not speech. And I am hoping for the argument against action = speech. – ataraxic Oct 5 '12 at 11:46

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