There is no branch of work amongst the arts so free as that of fiction. Fiction authors imagine and distribute offensive expressions free of governmental censorship and interference. At the present time, they are under no legal duty or preliminary guarantee to exclude immorality from their stories. Their legal duty to the public or state appears to be nil. This raises the question whether an author's freedom of expression is privileged?

Is freedom of expression a fundamental component of what it is for people or fiction to be free? Are there any limitations to that freedom? On what grounds are the limitations made?

An immoral fiction is one to which properties such as "immoral" are attributed. But can fiction be immoral?

What justifies the censorship of immoral fiction? And is censorship sufficient in keeping the immoral fiction from the public?

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    Check out the SEP on "freedom of speech". Freedom of speech always comes into conflict with other rights and duties and needs to be balanced against those. Society continuously negotiates the trade-offs.
    – Frank
    Mar 27, 2023 at 20:55
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    Calls for violence, defamation, there have always been & continue to be constraints. Varies by jurisdiction; I assume you have in mind the USA, with it's unusually strong protections of free speech. You might look at the CREEPR act to prevent importing child sex robots as being free speech, discussed here: 'Is artificially generating images of minors in sexual positions unethical?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/86018/… Also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_censorship_in_the_United_States
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 27, 2023 at 22:20
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    It is clearly not true that artists are not limited in their fictional creations. Even the most permissive countries have regulations about pornography, for exemple. What is it that you call an "immoral fiction" ? A fiction in which immoral acts and characters are described? That would be most of them. Or not just simply described but also not condemned, or even approved by the narration? Yet, would such a story be immoral in itself, or could it be seen as a cautionary tale that evil does indeed sometimes triumph? I think this question needs a lot of clarification to be answered meaningfully.
    – armand
    Mar 28, 2023 at 4:32
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    It's unclear if this is a philosophic or political question.
    – tkruse
    Mar 28, 2023 at 7:47
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    @haxor789 1 restriction to adults is one arbitrary limitation put on the artist's expression, even If it's a good thing it's still a limitation. 2 what you can show in porn even to adults is restricted in many countries. 3 Lolita, while speaking about pedophilia, is not pornographic, and is clearly framed to show the adult character for what he is, a monster. Not a glorification of pedophilia. You can read it if you want to know more. If you want an exemple of movie withholds conduct just shown with no condemnation try Funny Games by Mikado Haneke. A very hard watch.
    – armand
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


Potential limits on artistic freedom include (but are not limited to):

  • Legal limitations: Laws very from nation to nation, state to state, and even from medium to medium. In some areas it is possible to legally buy literature which - if depicted in image/moving image form - would be illegal in the same jurisdiction. Given that our imaginations are powerful quasi-visual devices, this can seem a strange dichotomy, as can the fact that film is at base an authorial work, a script written for the screen.

    I'm not sure how you justify your claim that, "Their [artists'] legal duty to the public or state appears to be nil". Try telling the team at Charlie Hebdo that, or the authors of these books, or these [film-makers] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_films#Bahrain). See also Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.

  • Conscience/harm minimisation: When the artistic instinct is inhibited by potential consequences of realising the work; consequences which can effect not only the audience, but people who have never read the work, and of course, the author themselves.

  • Imaginative/creative powers: An artist does not always possess the imagination and/or talent to realise their artistic ambition.

  • Market demand/potential profitability: Transgressive works frequently cause sensation and sell very well, but others are banned or rejected by publishers/outlets.

  • Fear of consequence: Societal/familial/peer group expectations and repercussions.

  • Technical ability: EG: lack of sufficient skill to meet artistic aims.

  • Motivation: The artist often desires the finished work but lacks the drive to see it through to completion.

Can fiction be immoral?

Fiction might be deemed as immoral/moral (although not necessarily) by those who adhere to consequentialism, supernaturalism, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, intuitivism, emotivism, hedonism, subjectivism, deontolgy (duty-based ethics). Each framework contains scope for an artistic work to be deemed 'unacceptable' from a moral standpoint (See the BBC's Introduction to Ethics for an explanation of each view. Upon reading each concise entry, it should become obvious how each morality might exert itself upon artistic work).

People sometimes attribute morality to a work simply because it contains material (such as depictions of sex and violence). Others might argue that depiction of such content is merely reflective of circumstances discoverable in the real world, and that for a work to be immoral, it must advocate for behaviours that are deemed immoral.

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    Maybe we should regard all depictions of human behavior as "cautionary tales". It is safer to learn from the mistakes of others.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 28, 2023 at 23:08

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