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Autonomy, freedom of speech and mental contamination

By Andrés Moles Velázquez


The aim of the thesis is to rebut the dominant autonomy-based defence of hate speech within a liberal framework. The thesis argues that liberal egalitarianism is compatible with certain restrictions on free speech. I defend the view that liberal ideals such as equality and autonomy are, contrary to the arguments of many liberals, better achieved by imposing certain restrictions on what citizens are allowed to express. I examine the problem of freedom of expression in the context. of the public/private distinction. In particular, I explore the Rawlsian conception of this distinction, which is based on the idea that principles of justice apply only to the 'basic structure of society'. Citizens are required by justice to treat all others as free and equal citizens, but this seems to hold only when citizens deliberate about 'constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice'. In their private lives and other social contexts citizens are free to treat other people without equal respect and concern, provided that basic rights are not violated. This position is criticised by calling attention to recent developments in Social and Cognitive Psychology. Evidence suggests that much of our behaviour is triggered by features of�· the environment that bypass individuals' rational control: this includes social stereotypes, non-instrumental behaviour, and goal-oriented activity among others. I develop these ideas into a discussion of free speech and autonomy. I argue that autonomy defences of free speech need to assess how the environment directly affects rational processes. Moreover, I argue, given the structure of human cognition, there is no guarantee that attitudes and actions cultivated in the private sphere will not 'spillover' into the public sphere. For this reason, I suggest, political morality must also extend to the justice of our private practices. To the extent that autonomy and justice matter, I argue that we have reasons to limit the expression of certain views, in particular those which trigger processes that bypass rational control. Finally, despite the importance I attribute to the concept of autonomy, I reject the claim that my position endorses a form of liberal perfectionism. I do so by defending a conception of full publicity and demonstrating that the view I articulate is compatible with rejecting perfectionism

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