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Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Nigel Warburton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Feb 2009 Very Short Introductions
'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it' This slogan, attributed to Voltaire, is frequently quoted by defenders of free speech. Yet it is rare to find anyone prepared to defend all expression in every circumstance, especially if the views expressed incite violence. So where do the limits lie? What is the real value of free speech? Here, Nigel Warburton offers a concise guide to important questions facing modern society about the value and limits of free speech: Where should a civilized society draw the line? Should we be free to offend other people's religion? Are there good grounds for censoring pornography? Has the Internet changed everything? This Very Short Introduction is a thought-provoking, accessible, and up-to-date examination of the liberal assumption that free speech is worth preserving at any cost. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) + Censorship: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides) + Freedom of Speech
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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199232350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199232352
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 10.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 161,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Nigel Warburton (1962 - ). Nigel Warburton is a freelance philosopher and podcaster and bestselling author of several popular introductory Philosophy books including A Little History of Philosophy, Philosophy: The Basics, Thinking from A to Z, Philosophy: The Classics, Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction, Philosophy: Basic Readings, Freedom: An Introduction with Readings, and The Art Question. He has also co-edited two books based on his popular Philosophy podcast which he makes with David Edmonds 'Philosophy Bites'. On Twitter he his @philosophybites, and he runs the weblogs Virtual Philosopher and Art and Allusion. His other podcasts include Social Science Bites, Free Speech Bites, Everyday Philosophy, and Philosophy: The Classics - all available on iTunes.

Product Description


The genius of Nigel Warburton's Free Speech lies not only in its extraordinary clarity and incisiveness. Just as important is the way Warburton addresses freedom of speech - and attempts to stifle it - as an issue for the 21st century. More than ever, we need this book. Denis Dutton, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Crisp, clear and astute, this is a thought-provoking introduction to one of the most hotly contested questions of our time. Lisa Appignanesi, President English PEN

Crisp, clear and astute, this is a thought-provoking introduction to one of the most hotly contested questions of our time. (Lisa Appignanesi, President English PEN )

About the Author

Nigel Warburton is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University. He is the author of the bestselling Philosophy: The Basics.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
`I despise what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.' Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Freedom of speech is considered one of the most fundamental human freedoms, especially in modern liberal democracies. It has become de facto THE litmus test of overall freedom that citizens of any society enjoy. And yet, the notion that we should have this freedom is relatively recent. The modern understanding of this freedom can more or less be traced to John Stewart Mill's "On Liberty," although there have been acknowledgements of the importance of freedom of speech that precede that work.

This very short introduction covers some of those historical developments, but most of the book is dedicated to the contemporary controversies that surround various interpretations and limitations of the freedom of speech. In particular, the book deals with the famous quote of Oliver Wendell Holmes that freedom of speech does not entail falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre and similar instances where speech can lead to physical or psychological harm. The book gives other examples of where our abstract notions of freedom of speech may collide with reality. The author is very good at appreciating the fact that the real world is very different from an academic discussion seminar, and many practical considerations oftentimes need to be taken into the account when deciding what should and should not be protected as free speech.

I find this book to be operating from a slight (perhaps unconscious) bias in its treatment of blasphemy and pornography. It seems to imply that religious and anti-religious "speech" (however one defines it) is really not categorically different from other forms of speech and ideas, while on the other hand the author is willing to concede that there is something categorically different when it comes to pornography.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars My lips are sealed 19 April 2012
By opus
One might have expected from a book on the subject of Free Speech a vigorous defence of the concept, but the book seems to be an apology for intolerance and the justification of persecution - not that I am suggesting that Warburton ever intended to do that, but he is an academic, and intolerance seems to be the air academia breathes of any who dare to doubt the veracity of the currently favoured orthodoxies, and this book does not fail to toe the line. An Amazon review is not the place to take to pieces every thing that is wrong with this book - life and band-width are too short. Suffice to say I think he is wrong not merely morally but frequently in the historical basis of his judgements and on almost every page.

There are in the West now, various designated Victims. One may not under any circumstance say anything critical of such groups for that is Hate Speech. The very term posits its own judgement and begs the question. There is a pecking order of these alleged victims. Criticising, all others, is not merely acceptable but indeed encouraged.

Merely apply, by way of example, Mill's corn-grower argument to Tram-Girl (not of course that any right thinking person could ever for a second even partially support her obnoxious tirade against her fellow travellers) to see how in modern Britain the very reverse of Mill's example is the case; nor of course in the case of the Muamba Tweeter could anyone suggest that anything less than two months imprisonment for a momentary and drunken lapse of taste where the man deserved to be expelled from University (only two months before his finals) was anything less than entirely justified, even though Muamba himself never saw or could have seen the obnoxious tweet.

Had I had the misfortune to be a student at a seminar given by the author on this subject I would have walked (and I trust said something pertinent before doing so) before seeking a refund.

Mill must be turning in his grave.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free speech explained at last! 27 Jan 2013
It's weird how I reviewed this book on free speech and it's disappeared! This is a great book and it was written in a way that makes you think about things like porn as free speech, or even what the BNP say. Should we censor things that might be dangerous, and who decides what's right or wrong? I got this book from a friend who was at university. It's not a hard read, though, and I think everyone should read this book.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, became one of my favourites. 27 Sep 2010
By Ecko
This is a really useful and clever book with organised chapters, plenty examples of recent events/ historical event relating to the topic of Free Speech. A strong focus into John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' and has clearly devided into separate parts according to Mill's different arguments. Also included critiques and own thoughts according to new incidents. Love it. great start on political philosophy.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Warburton writes, "John Stuart Mill was explicit that incitement to violence was the point at which intervention to curb free speech was appropriate. Mere offensiveness wasn't sufficient grounds for intervention and should not be prevented by law, by threats, or by social pressure." "A spirit of toleration should not include a prohibition on causing offence." Times columnist Oliver Kamm agreed, "Free speech does indeed cause hurt - but there is nothing wrong in this."

As US Justice Brennan said in Texas v. Johnson, which upheld the right of dissenters to burn the US flag as a protest, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

Virtually anything can be seen as offensive, and something that is both true and important is bound to offend somebody.

But in Britain today, it seems that we have the right to have free speech, as long as we don't use it. So members of the English Defence League are arrested and the group Muslims against Crusades is disbanded for saying things that some find offensive. But it is legitimate, if unjust and idiotic, to call for Sharia law here, and it is also legitimate, and just, to oppose Sharia law.

This government is trying to suppress dissent. It is expanding its police powers to control and limit expression, narrowing our rights of democratic participation.

The meanings of symbols like the poppy are in the realm of opinion and argument, so the state must not impose a politically correct interpretation on us.
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