The aim of this essay is to critically examine the limits of freedom of expression. The limits or constraints of free expression, in most cases, refer to the abuse of free speech, which may cause harm or offence. The essay focuses on defining what types of expression, or more specifically, speech is regarded as the limits of freedom of expression.
The essay is divided into two major parts, the evaluative and the extensive part. The first section explores different views on setting standards for modeling restrictions to freedom of expression or to prevent the abuse of free expression. In this part the Harm Principle by John Stuart Mill, the Offence Principle by Feinberg and the liberal view of constraints of free expression are explored, including the crucial parts of their theory and their limits. Evaluations of the theories will be presented. Mill’s Harm Principle did not clearly illustrate the harm caused by speech but conduct. It also failed to define psychological harm. In Feinberg’s case, he innovatively put forward psychological offence by speech. However, he did not lay the same stress on both physical and psychological offence. Almagor (1993: 465) assessed his theory, illustrating that the two type of offence should be equated with each other. The orthodox liberal view on modeling harm by speech is another way to list the restrictions of the freedom of speech. In my view, the list of the topics of inciting harm is endless because of the changing situations of speech that cause different harm with time.
The second section puts forward a new and improved model of limiting the freedom of speech. Both advantages and disadvantages of the theories are listed. The new model, including two arguments, attempts to overcome the shortages of the theories and be more comprehensive in terms of covering the harm caused from speech and preventing such harms. My first argument classifies harm into three types, physical, psychological and the one concerning dignity. The second argument provides a way to prevent harm from speech, which lays its focus on the target people who suffers from offence. Reasoning is presented to support my views.
Mill’s Harm Principle on the restriction of free expression
Mill put forward his idea that speech loses its immunity when it constitutes instigation to some harmful action. He gave an example of corn-dealer, in which he said that opinions lose their absolute immunity when they are expressed in the circumstances that would lead to some mischievous act. To be more specific, the opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, in his case, should be prevented when it is expressed orally in front of the house of a corn-dealer (Mill, 1948: pp.143-169). It was deduced that Mill believed instigation to be a speech that tends to lead to some mischievous action in circumstances which conduct such actions. He also pointed out Mill’s implication that intention to lead to harmful actions constitutes...