"Free Speech on Campus: Some Philosophical Reflections" by Cowling Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Ned Hall
How – if at all – should colleges and universities regulate speech within their communities? That question is as important as it is difficult to productively discuss. I’ll suggest that we can generate more light than heat on this question if we first take a step back and ask three interconnected questions: What’s the point of having colleges and universities at all? (Why think our society would be impoverished, even desperately so, without them?) What are the different things we can mean by “freedom of speech”? What are the different forms that “regulation” of speech can take?
I’ll argue for three interconnected answers, focusing especially on free speech in the classroom and its adjacent intellectual spaces. One key point of having colleges and universities – in particular, those like Carleton that emphasize “the power of a liberal arts education to transform the lives of students and prepare them for a rapidly changing world” – is to develop in our youth the ability and motivation to diagnose and combat ignorance. We can best achieve this aim only if we distinguish and uphold two very different kinds of “freedom of speech”. On the one hand, there is freedom from fear of reprisal – the kind of freedom you need if you are to speak, or even know, your own mind. On the other hand, there is the freedom to be heard – the kind of freedom you need in order to have confidence that when you speak, you will be listened to and taken seriously. Cultivating both forms of freedom together does, I’ll argue, require regulation. But it’s the subtle regulation that consists in having strong norms – not rules – governing the way we talk to each other, norms designed to promote a culture of intellectual vitality where curiosity trumps fear.