Can Speech Kill?

Sunday, March 22, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, December 10, 2017

What is it

Free speech is one of the core tenets of our democracy. We’re inclined to think that more speech is always better. Although the Supreme Court has outlined some minor restrictions to our right to free speech, the most courts are willing to admit is that speech can lead to violence—it cannot itself do violence. But is it possible for speech to do both? If hate speech is used against a marginalized group, couldn’t the speech act literally do harm? And how does the answer to this question affect our commitment to free speech in a liberal democracy? The Philosophers do no harm with Lynne Tirrell from the University of Connecticut, author of “Genocidal Language Games.”

Comments (3)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, December 11, 2017 -- 11:30 AM

Hate Speech and Other Forms of Verbal Assault...

Free speech is a mixed blessing. Even the founding fathers (who patterned much of their thinking after Enlightenment thinkers) knew that they were opening a can of worms. But, better to have worms than have nothing at all. I think the spate of juvenile suicide we have seen of late shows just how dangerous words can become. Children get verbally bullied, on line and in person. They feels there is no one who can help them. These circumstances are sufficient to marginalize them, and, they commit suicide or take guns to school, with (or without) murderous intent. There is no question that we have a problem here. One that clearly needs solutions...

Mercurywoodrose's picture


Tuesday, December 12, 2017 -- 12:24 PM

Speech and death

Yes speech can kill .the perfect example is a death penalty order from the government .the person who does the killing is called the executioner .he executes the order given by the state .all declared wars are started by speech your debate is mostly about non-state sanctioned death .all state sanctioned death begins with words

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, March 9, 2020 -- 11:42 AM

See also my other comment

See also my other comment from the December, 2017 post. Words, and how we think about them, are powerful influences on everyone of us. I have completed an essay I call: On Luck, Chance, Absurdity and Carl Jung. Part of that piece is included here, consisting of conclusions I reached while writing the paper:

...How we form notions about chance, luck, synchronicity and the like, is a curiosity. While principles/features of mathematics give us a degree of confidence in predicting chance outcomes, there is no free lunch: probability is NEVER certainty.

Luck is a hollow term in any sense whatsoever; narrow, broad or neutral. It only represents how things might possibly be, not how they probably are, nor how they WILL be. This, arguably, places it in the same back-yard with Nagel's cryptic comment on belief. (The View From Nowhere, 1986)

Jung's postulation of synchronicity, though an approximation of that thing called fate, implies a likelihood unlike the latter: an underlying tenet of synchronicity is that it connotes a positive experience/outcome. It is supposed to teach us something. Fate is, more often than not, associated with a negative result. Both are (I think Jung would agree) dependent on contingency. And matters of contingency are not matters of luck...

When we consider the realm of superstition, the pivotal role of language in passing that along, generation to generation, and how luck and superstition mutually support one another, we see clearly how powerful words are. I also wrote about how some superstitions emerged from practical considerations: not walking under a ladder for example, to wit, someone working high up on a ladder might have something he could drop ,accidentally,---but, accident or no, one walking below would not want to be on the business end of the accident---for some sorts of superstition, there is no other impetus stronger than self-preservation. Be careful what you say, because you never know who may be listening.

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Lynne Tirrell, Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut


Bonus Content


Research By

Mohit Mookim

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