How is Free Speech virtuous? Can a concept in and of itself contain virtue? No. Ideas are concepts that have not been initiated by action. But when we speak those concepts aloud, then yes they are virtuous, because virtue is “behavior showing high moral standards”. What is the high moral standard that Free Speech expresses? Free Speech advocates the propagation of new ideas even if that is not the intent of an individual’s motives. Speech is a vehicle in which we transfer ideas from ourselves to others so that those ideas can be evaluated for their merits or lack thereof. Even with a motive to share common knowledge as information, it has the capacity to formulate new ideas for both the speaker and the listener. With the exchange of ideas through the unopposed transmission of free speech, we create a neverending environment of new idea production.
People make associations of concepts by deriving conclusions based on their previous experiences, the environment around them, and new information collected. This is what we refer to as the individual’s perspective. I could have an idea or concept in my mind and share it with two different individuals and these two individuals could draw two different conclusions from the new information that I present based on their previous experience and knowledge. The more individuals I share this knowledge with, the more individual perspectives I will acquire as feedback. When I see many individuals returning similar thought concepts I can safely conclude that most of these individuals have similar histories or life experiences with similar use of logic and knowledge.
The virtue of free speech is the courage to put forth ideas in order to challenge existing ideological structures in the hope of producing new ideas by constantly evaluating those concepts against standardized thinking in order to find an individual who holds a uniquely personal and intellectual perspective, generating a new concept.
I want to find the most unique perspectives possible in order to propagate the most unique ideas. I cannot do so if I am limiting my audience to only a select few or keeping the ideas to myself.
Intellect doesn’t always have to be the primary factor in producing a new idea. Sometimes the most simplistic approach can accomplish more than the most complex individual perspective. This is why we hear the term “From the mouth of babes.”
When you shut down free speech because you personally find ideas that do not measure up to your own as offensive, this is a willful admittance that you do not possess the courage to search for new ideas or to be challenged because your own ideas may not hold up under scrutiny. But what’s worse is you make yourself lesser by omission because you are conceding that your own unique perspectives do not have enough value to generate new ideas within yourself or within others. Perhaps you even fear that new ideas or concepts will change you and you do not want to evolve, causing self-inflicted emotional and mentally stunted growth.
Free speech also helps us to make order out of chaos through the exercise of learning how to articulate broken or disjointed thoughts and conveying them to others. The more practice we have articulating fragmented ideas to pose for evaluation, the stronger our skillset becomes with articulating those ideas, but also our ideas are tried and tested under the scrutiny of others. Just like when our muscles in our bodies become stronger with exercise, the stronger our arguments and our ideas become when we engage in dialogue.
When we choose to limit free speech to only non-offensive speech, what we have to understand is that any situation, any idea, any concept can be viewed from both an advantageous or disadvantageous individual’s perspective. For example, if someone views a scene of children playing in the street on their way to work as an advantage, the scene may invoke thoughts or feelings of nostalgia reminiscing on their own time in the streets as children. But if the viewer of the children is running late for work, this may invoke feelings of anger and frustration as the little rugrats are impeding their way to work. So who gets to decide what is advantageous or disadvantageous? The individual. Who gets to decide what’s offensive or not offensive?
Is being anti-hate speech the same as being anti-thought and anti-intellectual? I think so.
How many conversations throughout human history did it take for us to conceptualize the ideas that we have today? These ideas did not simply spring into existence. Many underlying ideas developed into philosophies of thought that form the structures of our modern society. How many more conversations do we need to advance to the next step of our thought evolution? By artificially reducing the number of conversations through the censoring of hate speech, we are, in effect, stunting society’s evolution of thought.
Having the courage to resist censorship of speech to express ideas through free speech is virtuous by promoting the evolution of thought through dialogue.
Let us do a thought experiment and fast forward to the end of time where we can see the entirety of all sentient thought as an overview. Now, let us pick an idea anywhere from the timeline at random and evaluate it. Is there anyone else anywhere on that timeline that can look at that randomly selected idea and say it is “bad” or “offensive”? Sure. Their opinions are based on their individual perspective, whether they are logically accurate or not. Finding someone to disagree with any idea isn’t difficult.
What about more than one individual looking at the idea and finding it “bad” or “offensive”? Does having a consensus that an idea is “bad” or “offensive” make it so, when it wasn’t otherwise considered before just by looking at one person’s perspective? No. So consensus that an idea is “bad” or “offensive” does not hold the burden of proof that it is. It all goes back to the judgment of the individual on their own level.
Let’s take a look at the year 1903. And we’ll look at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. There we will find two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They have an idea and they designed a device that they intended to use to fly through the air. Now at that time, there were many people who viewed this concept as a “bad” or “offensive” idea. Some said that the sky was the realms of birds and of God. Others said that if God had intended for man to fly, he would have given us wings! In the end, there was a consensus that building a device that could allow men to fly would be “bad” or “offensive”, some even viewed it as outright sacrilege. In hindsight, I think that you will find very view people in the remainder of history after those events that would still believe flying was a bad idea when it brought humanity so many new advantages and enhanced our understanding of the Universe in which we lived.
So when we dismiss someone’s argument or point of view by labeling it “bad” or “offensive”, we may be tempted to use ad hominems to discredit our opponent. This is intellectually lazy and we miss opportunities to engage and strengthen our own arguments as well as the opportunity to impart knowledge. We may argue that it is not worth our time to deal with an imbecile. I beg to differ. We might just be the ones that discover the root cause of “that imbecile’s” unproductive thinking.
We object to things we find offensive when we have no arguments. We reinforce our own closed minded world views and we stunt our own personal growth. When we object to an argument by attacking the individual we disagree with, are we not reinforcing disdain against our own perspectives. We cannot erase unproductive or negative thinking with more negative and reactionary thinking. The only true way to uproot an illogical argument is by using logic by discovering the bad seed of the source of undesirable behavior and shedding light on it.
We grow every single day as we add new information and new experiences to our perspectives. You are not the same person you were 10 years ago and you won’t be the same person you are now 10 years from now. Perhaps I might look back on this very argument and call myself naive as I continue to put forth my own ideas to be challenged and I refine my arguments or change my position entirely. This is a process that I’m not afraid of because I’m intentionally seeking to change my perspective by acquiring new knowledge.
Speaking of knowledge, this brings me to another point: I see the pursuit of knowledge as another virtue of free speech. Even if someone is saying something to be intentionally offensive, any attempts to engage that individual’s ideas become an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to strengthen your own arguments as well as gaining insight into others that you share your society with. With the addition of social media available to us today, we have the capacity to engage in larger, focused conversations to sort out our ideas from our own unique perspectives and challenge one another to increase each other's own knowledge and understanding. By interjecting forbidden topics or points, we are overlooking opportunities to improve our society and limiting the dissemination of new concepts that could invoke new ideas. We cannot learn from one another if we are not talking to one another.
You do not have to agree with my whole argument regarding the virtue of free speech for it to have value or meaning. Even if one phrase, one concept among the many I have shared in this conversation turns on a process of thought in your mind and you see that portion as truth, then I have successfully accomplished my goal even if you feel the rest of it is rubbish. You can take that single notion and evolve your perspective in order to formulate ideas more unique than you could have before.
And if the entire premise I present today is complete rubbish to you, then you have proven yourself to have the capacity to examine my argument and reinforce your own understands from your individual perspective. There is no loss here for being wrong about anything. This is purely a win-win situation because we are free to have this discussion.
I would like to believe that the concepts I’ve outlined in this argument are a summary of other lines of thought that allowed me to produce new ideas that are uniquely my own. I’ve never seen anyone pose some of these points on how new ideas are propagated by free speech before. These points of view were not laid out for me except in my own processes of thinking. Perhaps the argument exists in some long lost forgotten tome or perhaps it is a common discussion covered in everyday textbooks in college that I’ve never come across before. If that is the case, then you have an opportunity to impart your knowledge of such a work to me that will help me to grown from this experience. If the idea doesn’t exist in any text or lecture, it is possible that scholars or even sheepherders from a thousand years ago had this conversation but did not feel it had the merit to be heard and the information became lost. I do not want my ideas to dissipate into nothing and that’s why I’m choosing to share my ideas, putting them out there to be challenged and having the courage to not be afraid of using my sense of personal agency to speak what I hold to be true.
With this argument, I may have inadvertently misstepped and made mistakes in my deduction of logic and that’s ok. Because I had the courage to not only articulate these ideas but to share them with others, I’m continuing to move the conversation forward, which in practice reveals another virtue of free speech by expressing the courage to speak the truth. Even if I have failed to deliver a convincing argument, pieces of its structure may help those who hear my message and this could propagate the creation of new ideas within their own conscious that have the potential to evolve the concepts of human thinking. It would be a shame if you kept them to yourself.
Those of us who are not nihilists say that we are searching for meaning to our lives. Well, who are you if you are not the sum of all of your ideas based on your personal experiences and interactions? Your ideas are the greatest representation of who you are and how you will leave your mark on society. My ideas will not die with me. I exchanged these ideas with my children and as my children add their own perspectives to these ideas, they will impart new ideas to their children who will also formulate their own ideas. Even if my words as they exist today fail to hold the same meaning 100 years from now, you can be certain that within my own family these ideas will be at the heart of the structure of the ideas for my family to come. In that way, the concepts of my limited imagination and perspective are immortalized and will become more than what I have achieved within my own lifetime. Do I need to be accredited for that achievement in order to matter to posterity a thousand years from now? No. Because I know my words will never truly die. They will simply evolve into new ideas and I’m grateful to have been part of the conversation.