Speech Matters

Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law

Seana Valentine Shiffrin
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Speech Matters
    Book Description:

    To understand one another as individuals and to fulfill the moral duties that require such understanding, we must communicate with each other. We must also maintain protected channels that render reliable communication possible, a demand that, Seana Shiffrin argues, yields a prohibition against lying and requires protection for free speech. This book makes a distinctive philosophical argument for the wrong of the lie and provides an original account of its difference from the wrong of deception.

    Drawing on legal as well as philosophical arguments, the book defends a series of notable claims-that you may not lie about everything to the "murderer at the door," that you have reasons to keep promises offered under duress, that lies are not protected by free speech, that police subvert their mission when they lie to suspects, and that scholars undermine their goals when they lie to research subjects.

    Many philosophers start to craft moral exceptions to demands for sincerity and fidelity when they confront wrongdoers, the pressures of non-ideal circumstances, or the achievement of morally substantial ends. But Shiffrin consistently resists this sort of exceptionalism, arguing that maintaining a strong basis for trust and reliable communication through practices of sincerity, fidelity, and respecting free speech is an essential aspect of ensuring the conditions for moral progress, including our rehabilitation of and moral reconciliation with wrongdoers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5252-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)

    We cannot develop or flourish in isolation. Our mutual interdependence is not merely material but also, importantly, mental. The exchange of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, perceptions, and ideas with others is essential to each person’s ability to function well as a thinker and as a moral agent. Sincere communication with others is, likewise, crucial to our ability to live together and to pursue our joint moral aims. Because we cannot peer into one another’s minds, we depend upon others to convey their mental contents with precision and rich content through sincere communication. Sincere communication permits us, then, to share knowledge and...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Lies and the Murderer Next Door
    (pp. 5-46)

    Benjamin Constant famously complained about a “German philosopher” who implausibly maintained that “it would be a crime to lie to a murderer who asked us whether a friend of ours whom he is pursuing has taken refuge in our house.”² In response to this allegation, Immanuel Kant notoriously rejected Constant’s contention that one has a duty to tell the truth only to a person who has a right to one’s sincerity, declaring:

    Truthfulness in statements that one cannot avoid is a human being’s duty to everyone, however great the disadvantage to him or to another that may result from it;...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Duress and Moral Progress
    (pp. 47-78)

    The dominant view about duress holds that, generally, unjustified or wrongfully exerted coercion entirely exonerates the party subjected to undue pressure from responsibility for whatever actions the duress produces.¹ This is a powerful and attractive view. It makes sense, other things being equal, that one should not be held responsible for what results from the bluntest forms of coercion, coercion so blunt that some do not count it as coercion at all.² If I wrench your hand and force a scrawled signature on a real estate contract, the consequences of that endorsement should not be laid on your doorstep. Your...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A Thinker-Based Approach to Freedom of Speech
    (pp. 79-115)

    Chapter One argued that because of its potential for precision and directness, discursive communication plays a special role in our moral lives. Its reliability renders possible, for example, commitments of trust under fraught circumstances of the kind that I have just discussed in Chapter Two. The need to safeguard its ability to play that role undergirds the wrong of lying in particular. Although it has not been my focus, deception also threatens the full achievement of these interests. Both the prohibition on lying and the prohibition on wrongful deception work, in different ways, to protect the ability of listeners to...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Lying and Freedom of Speech
    (pp. 116-156)

    In Chapter One, I argued that a lie is an assertion that the speaker knows she does not believe, but nevertheless deliberately asserts, in a context that, objectively interpreted, represents that assertion as to be taken by the listener as true and as believed by the speaker. Given that understanding, I argued that the primary, distinctive wrong of lies as such does not inhere in their deceptive effect, if any, on listeners, but instead in their abuse of the mechanism by which we provide reliable testimonial warrants, a mechanism we must safeguard if we are to understand and cooperate with...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Accommodation, Equality, and the Liar
    (pp. 157-181)

    In Chapter Four, I argued that legal regulation of lies need not violate freedom of speech. In particular, I contended that well-crafted regulations need not be content-discriminatory in any normatively significant way, that the permissible regulation of lies does not require a particularized victim of legally cognizable harm, and that lies lack significant freedom of speech value. From a theoretical constitutional perspective, I concluded that freedom of speech poses no inherent barrier to carefully crafted legal regulation of lies, that legal regulation might, if successful, enhance our free speech culture, and that in addition to its effects on particular recipients,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Sincerity and Institutional Values
    (pp. 182-224)

    Previous chapters have focused on the sincerity, promissory fidelity, and free expression of individuals. I have argued that we have a basic, compulsory responsibility to establish and maintain feasible conditions under which we can understand and carry out our moral duties. This requires us to safeguard the possibility of moral cooperation and moral progress in collaboration withallmoral agents, even those in poor standing. Creating and maintaining free, open, and reliable channels of communication is an important component of that responsibility. In turn, that responsibility grounds duties of sincerity and promissory fidelity and explains why they have application even...

  11. Index
    (pp. 225-234)