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The First Amendment says that the government protects the right of the individual of free speech. But, should the government protect the individual's hate speech?

According to the US Supreme Court, there are certain categories of speech or expression that are not protected by the First Amendment, for example "fighting words" or those that incite people to riot or cause a breach of the peace; the "fighting words" are also "insulting", and they are "those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace". These "have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem" (Chaplinsky v New Hampshire 1942). Slander is another example. "There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight...

Say I smoke marijuana not just because I find it pleasurable but because it is a form of counterculture expression. That is, smoking marijuana is a political act. I think that some in the 60s might have subscribed to that notion. I insist that weed is speech (and why not since money and flag burning seem to be), and the government cannot deny me exercise of that right. How do we square the general right of expression with problematic individual cases like the one above? Surely my exercise will get me arrested in many jurisdictions.

I have consulted an authoritative legal friend, who suggests the following line of thought. Is smoking marijuana a form of speech protected by the First Amendment? I cannot simply engage in an act and make the act a protected form of speech because I think or claim it is. There is also the objective test as to whether it has that meaning in the culture at large. In the 1960s smoking pot might have been taken as a protest, and yet today it might not, if only because its use is common. Besides, not any act, even literal speech, is protected under the First Amendment. One could not take unlawful killing, say, or "fighting words", for example incitements to criminal activity, to be protected. So far the law. It seems to me that very similar points apply, minus the Constitutional formulation, if the question is taken morally rather legally, in spite of the fact that the preservation of the democracy is not at the heart of morality.

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?

Consider two otherwise identical worlds, in one of which determinism is true, and in the other of which it is not. In the second world there is freedom of the will. What difference does this make to the legal system and the moral system? Ex hypothesi, none. When I wrote that if hard determinism is true, moral systems cannot be corrupt, I was describing Stephen's view, not my own! Hence I think the apparent contradiction that he detects. Here's another way of putting the point I wanted to make. We can imagine a deterministic world in which people are thinking good thoughts and doing good things, and making good laws. The world of law and morality seems to have survived the loss of freedom! In this world, some philosophers believe in determinism, and some in freewill. But of course the having of those beliefs is part of a deterministically produced system. There could be incidentally be a deterministic world that is morally and legally better than a world with freewill. Consider the worst world imaginable...
Your question is a very important one and has been very important historically. It has driven quite a lot of discussion about freewill. Alas, I do not agree with Stephen's answer. If hard determinism is true, which is to say that we have no free will, then, Stephen says, the legal system would be corrupt. So also would be the moral systems, including the one that allows him to use the concept corrupt . Corruption is moral depravity, and if determinism is true and it undercuts law and morals, then there is no such thing as corruption. Those like me who are compatibilists take the view that the truth of determinism would have no consequences for law and morals. The classical compatibilist makes a distinction between those actions that are caused, and those that are coerced, though this distinction is often expressed in different pairs of terms. If an action is caused and subject to scientific law, it is not unfree unless it is also coerced. One would want to include of course psychological self-coercion,...

What is the difference between determinism and the principle of sufficient reason? Thanks, Mark

Hi Mark, The principle of sufficient reason, due to Leibniz, states that there is always a reason why some particular thing happens, rather than some other thing. This does not immediately or obviously pose a threat to freedom. Note that "reason" does not mean the same as "cause", although a cause might be a reason. Determinism states something much stronger, more complicated, and more sinister. It tells us that the laws of nature and the initial state of the universe at some time in the past entail the state of the universe in the present. Entailment is a strong relation, and what determinism means is that if the laws are whatever they are and the initial state of the universe is whatever it is, then the the universe must (nota been, "must") go into the subsequent state. There is a necessary truth. It is that if the universe is in the initial state, and the laws apply, then the universe will go into the second state. Determinism has been held to pose a severe threat to freedom in the...

Is there a philosophical similarity between what one can't do because it's morally wrong, what one can't do because it is contrary to one's own aims, and what one can't do because the laws of physics prevent it? Does philosophy have something to say about these various uses of the same word that we find in several languages?

To me it seems that the use of the word "can't" and its meaning is the same in all three settings (moral, prudential and physical). "Can't" means there's a contradiction in saying that you do the thing you are said not to be able to do. But the contradiction does not appear without the addition of the "laws" or principles of ethics, or the statement of what one wants, or the laws of physics. There is one exception to this principle. "Can't" in logic and logic-derived fields asserts a contradiction without any body of auxiliary propositions. 'I can't lift 1000kg' means that given the facts of my strength and some facts of physics, there is a contradiction in saying that I lift 1000kg.

More of an observation than a question, about "compatibilism" in the free will "versus" determinism debate. In the short run, there is a strong correlation between life expectancy tables and the number of people who die in a calendar year. Somehow, even though on the level of the individual, many of these events may be due to "luck" (wow, that train just missed me; or wow, what a freak combination of factors to lead to such a bizarre accident); on the level of the population, the total number of deaths in a year can be "predicted" fairly well even if no individual death can be predicted. In the long run, life expectancy tables do change over time: collectively, each individual person uses what they learn about diet, exercise, cigarette smoking, etc. and makes adjustments in their day-to-day lives; and the aggregate results over time do reflect these changes. It seems to me that there is a good question buried here in this analogy but I can't quite figure out how to unearth it. Any thoughts from a...

You make an important observation for compatibilism. What your analysis does is to show that we can have predictability and law (in a regularity sense) with no implications for individual freedom. My decision to cross the railway track might lead to my death, and it might produce a number that fits the predicted number of deaths on railway lines in a year. Was my decision then not a free one? Hardly, because for that to be the case it has to be coerced or whatever the particular compatibilist line being taken is. The fact that there are h homicides a year in the United States, on average, and that without the homicide I commit the number would be h -1 has no relevance to the freedom or unfreedom of my act. Your point was of central importance to the classical compatibilists, who realized that knowledge and predication of what will happen have no tendency to undermine freedom. I know what I will do, but this could hardly be a reason to say what I will do is not free. It might even be a condition for...

If I do something, is it fair to say that I am also _choosing_ not to do one of an infinite number of other things that I am not considering at the time of the choice? For example, if I ask somebody "What's your name?", is it accurate to say I am choosing not to ask them "Where are my walnuts?", even if the second question never even occurred to me?

No, it's a mistake to say that you are choosing not to do all those other things. When you decide to ask someone "What's your name?" it is not "accurate" or right to say that you have chosen not to ask that person "Where are my walnuts?" What is true is that you are not choosing to do the infinite number of things, and you are not choosing to ask where your walnuts are, but that is not at all the same thing as choosing not to ask where they are. Not choosing to ask my name is not a choosing, whereas choosing not to ask my name is. You can also see that it couldn't be right to say that you are choosing not to do infinitely many things - there just isn't time!

Could ADHD drugs like Adderall be accurately described as strengthening a person's will?

We tend to regard the will as something that is marked off from the rest of the person, because, somehow, it is a direct manifestation of the person's being. So an ADHD drug could not be described as "strengthening people's will", because it if were described in this way it could not then be said to be be their own will that was being strengthened; they would be having it down for them. Similarly, one might think, you can do my work for me, but not my thinking, because then it would not be my thinking that was being done. (Still, in that sense you would not be doing my work - my working - and it is just as impossible for you to do my work as it is for you to think my thoughts or even perhaps to wear my boots, taken to be the ones I am wearing ("Look, his boots (borrowed boots) have mud on them")). One might on the other hand regard the will as the energy or strength to carry something through. Or one might regard it as determination, though here too the paradox shows through. If my...

In "The Grand Design" Stephen Hawking claims that free will does not exist. He uses the evidence of a study in neuroscience which found that the stimulation of certain regions of the brain resulted in the stimulation of certain desires; ex. a desire to move one's right arm. But does the mere fact that we can not decide our desires mean that we don't have free will? Don't we have the ability to control these desires and act in an appropriate way? Isn't that free will?

I hope that you are wrong in your account of what Stephen Hawking writes in The Grand Design , because it is so obviously wrong and uninformed. There is no freewill, Hawking writes, according to you, and the reason is that stimulation of particular regions of the brain results in certain desires, such as a desire to move one's right arm. Consider an analogy. One might want to argue there is no such thing as a free or random roulette wheel, because magnetic "stimulation" of some number on the wheel will make the ball want to land there. Of course to say that a human action is free is not to say that it is random, but to say that a human action is free has something in common with saying, of a roulette wheel, that it is not rigged or that the ball is somehow forced to land where it does. From the fact that I want to raise my arm when my torturer's make me want to does not show that when I am not being tortured my desire to reaise it is not free. Even if some human actions are not free, in cases...

I'm really struggling to comprehend soft determinism/compatibilism. How can free will be compatible with determinism? Surely by definition, they both necessitate exclusivity to each other?

Here is a side note to your question. Soft determinism consists of two propositions: (1) the the thesis that determinism is true; (2) that it is compatible with freedom. Compatibilism on the other hand is merely (2). So soft determinism includes compatibilism, but there is more to it. I am a compatibilist but not a soft determinist (I am a compatibilist indeterminist), as I believe that there are some events that have no causes (denial of universal causation), and I also believe that the state of the universe plus the laws of nature do not determine the next state of the universe (determinism), and I also believe that some human actions are free. The only other compatibilist indeterminist I know of is David Lewis.

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