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International Journal of Legal Discourse

Editor-in-Chief: Cheng, Le

Managing Editor: Sun, Yuxiu

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How not to do things with words: On conceptions of language and freedom of speech

Sten Schaumburg-Müller
Published Online: 2016-05-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijld-2016-0009


J.S. Mill’s On Liberty often serves as a point of reference as his defense constitutes a convincing argument for the advantages of freedom of speech. However, there are some unsolved problems also. 1) He does not get law right, and 2) he explicitly excludes the benefits of freedom of speech for “those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage”. This approach suggests a connection between liberalism and racism, but leaving that aside there is still an issue relating to the universality of any conception of freedom of speech. 3) Mill assumes a discussion model for all freedom of speech issues and he cannot cope with e. g. commercial or political activities directed at influencing the opinions of others. 4) Mill presupposes a notion of language as being nothing but forwarding of propositions. Mill’s view fits nicely with the conception of freedom of speech e. g. in the French 1789 Declaration, Art. 11, but it is an insufficient, if not entirely misconceived understanding of language. Thus, Gottlob Frege has pointed to the distinction between reference and meaning (Sinn) and J.L. Austin has also pointed out that we are always doing something while we speak. The interesting questions are whether such improved understanding of language has any bearings on the idea of freedom of speech and to what extent it may assist in drawing the difficult line between protected freedom of speech and criminal actions – an obviously important distinction which the French Declaration was unable to handle.

Keywords: freedom of speech; conceptions of language; meaning and reference; performative language; excitable speech; civilization


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About the article

Received: 2015-07-30

Accepted: 2016-02-27

Published Online: 2016-05-19

Published in Print: 2016-04-01

Citation Information: International Journal of Legal Discourse, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 49–63, ISSN (Online) 2364-883X, ISSN (Print) 2364-8821, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijld-2016-0009.

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