Free Speech and Academic freedom in 2020: A Conversation with David Ottlinger

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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EA’s own David Ottlinger and I discuss the ongoing efforts to silence, de-platform, and otherwise “Cancel” Professor Kathleen Stock, of the University of Sussex for her work and activism on sex and gender related issues; the Daily Nous’s treatment of this subject; and the more general question of the capacity to speak and write publicly and freely and its role in a liberal democracy.

Video Dialogue

2:35 Intro 05:07 The (latest) defenestration of Kathleen Stock 19:19 How sincere are pro-trans rights public intellectuals? 30:10 Justin Weinberg’s essay on the Kathleen Stock incident 47:28 David: “It’s the squishy middles that are gonna kill us” 1:02::03 Dan: deplatforming people on social media is effectively censorship 1:13:06 The death of public discourse and the rise of Trump 1:22:04 How consensus crumbles 1:30:45 David: we should get rid of the harm principle

Audio Podcast, MP3

12 comments

  1. While I have issues with some of what David says, his point about the harm principle is basically correct.

    1. There was a study that showed in late 00s insurgents in Iraq would increase their attacks on U.S. troops after negative reporting about the war in U.S. press. That is about as concrete you can get about harm caused by speech but I don’t think many would advocate laws that would ban negative reporting of an ongoing war effort (for those thinking about the legitimacy of the Iraq war, you can easily reimagine this in the context of a fully justified war effort).

    2. In Justinian’s Institutes the harm principle is just one of three precepts of law articulated by Justinian:

    >>>The precepts of the law are these: to live honestly, to injure no one, and to give every man his due.

    Another approach would be to balance the harm principle with the other two precepts.

  2. David’s Scanlon reference is, in effect, a little piece of “positive” liberty — purposive — rather than a wholly negative liberty version of Mill. I pretty much agree that by itself Mill’s harm principle (as purely negative) needs more, but I don’t agree that it should be “dropped.” The harm principle is valid, but can only be successfully interpreted inside or on the basis of a more “positive” liberty background.

  3. This is the most interesting and deep discussion of these issues I’ve encountered. Thank you. A sequel is surely in order.

  4. There is one thing you didn’t discuss that I would nevertheless like to see you two talk through.

    The woke academic activists invoke the harm principle not only in their claim that airing a certain idea harms those who happen to hear it aired but also in the claim that airing a certain idea “contributes to a system of oppression,” or something along those lines.

    I, for one, would benefit from hearing you guys work out what this is supposed to even mean, what kind of claim it is, what kind of considerations would tell in favor of or against it, and whether there are in fact considerations that tell in favor of or against it.

  5. Anyone hear any good rape jokes lately?

    Here’s a different consideration on the matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikqPnAhRo-c

    Maybe I didn’t catch it but, was this symposium a sponsored public or private affair? Was it ostensibly open to all relevant academics? What was the stated purpose? I’m a staunch advocate of free speech and unfettered academic inquiry but, the answers to my above questions have to be considered to put the issue into its proper perspective.

    Dan, great show as are the others I’ve caught. Great start and very glad they are so accessible to a non philosopher. (Azin)

      1. Hi Dan,

        Excellent comment board. Very impressive and user friendly.

        About the video. It would take too long to go through all the convoluted thinking processes of my mind so, the short answer is: At about time stamp :50 Prof. Ottlinger was in the middle of discussing the Morrison(?) Rule and you interjected about the Green Dot movement – what there was of it, anyway. You jokingly brought up how problematic it would be to have to defend a rape joke on campus, even though, as I understood what you meant, one should technically have the right to make one even if it would for obvious reasons be inadvisable and put one in a difficult position to defend.

        This got me thinking about the current status of such humor. Did some Googling and found a lot of feminist takes on the issue by female comedians and commentators. Sacrilege to some, learning tool for others and a means of “owning” it as a catharsis through humor. What I didn’t expect was the video I posted. Male rape is still fair game, one of the few insults to human welfare not actively or effectively prevented by prison officials or widely or vociferously demonstrated against by the PC, the woke and Me Too. Because of who the victims are assumed to be.

        I thought it might be something serious enough to recall and reconsider. I hope it wasn’t too tangential or detracting from your and Dave’s excellent discussion.

        1. Not at all. I have always found the glee over the prospect of someone being raped in prison after being incarcerated foul and ghoulish. I cannot imagine a rape joke that would ever *not* be in bad taste. I was thinking more of the great tradition of ethnic humor, which I think is quite different and for which I think should be broadly deemed permissible. Indeed, I have an entire repertoire of Jewish jokes that I think are some of the funniest. Ditto for Polish jokes, etc.

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