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There's No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too Paperback – 1 Nov 1994

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Product details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (1 Nov. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195093836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195093834
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 1.7 x 13.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 620,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Mr Fish deflates anointed truths with joyful abandon, and he is at his best in exposing the often baleful effects wrought by mean-spirited defenders of traditional values (The New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Stanley Fish is Arts and Sciences Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke University. A founder of Reader Response Theory, he is the author of many books, including

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By peculiar on 10 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
Now, sitting comfortably? Are you a liberal or a conservative? Do you think your views, sane, rational, fair, unbiased or generally decent? Well what if I told you that you are a biased, interested, often irrational and double-dealing individual who rigs debates, fixes the meanings of discourses (and things) and generally configures things to your own advantage and your opponent's disadvantage? OK, you would disagree with me: BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT STANLEY FISH IS SAYING ABOUT YOU!! He does this in a series of extraordinary essays attacking conservatives and liberals alike (though under the post-Enlightenment rubric of "liberalism" in general, that belief system shared by most modern, Western thinkers) for their slipperiness in debate and their use of fake and polemical principles, actually the products of politics (a noble because unavoidable category for Fish). Fish's aim in all this seems to be to drag everyone back to their contextual and historical time and place(s) and to do away with the notion that we can avoid this or retreat into our various cognitive, abstract and universalising hiding places. What is left is what we had before Fish started writing and what, according to Fish, we will always have: political debate, the opportunity to convince your peers that this way is better than that, that this conclusion is better than that one. But, after Fish, we won't be able to do this by appealing to principles anymore since he has exposed them all as partisan and political. So "hoorah" for Stanley Fish's eye opening book, let's build a better world, and watch out, Stanley Fish is after you!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 Dec. 1998
Format: Paperback
One of the great things about Stanley Fish is that he tells us what we all already know, and gets us to pay him for it--even though we don't like what he tells us! After all, who DOESN'T know that the First Amendment is just a bunch of words. Who, these days, DOESN'T think that the law is just however the court happens to be feeling that day? The answer is, unfortunately, a great many, which is why there continues to be a need for people like Stanley Fish. The fact that somebody has to do this job is, I think, really too bad. In fact, it might not be too much to say that what we really ought to do, as a country, is to apologize to Mr. Fish for making him do things that would make any sensible person disgusted. You would think that, as a nation, we wouldn't need Fish after having had Mencken, but there you go. Anyway, if you are a bright undergraduate, you might want to read this book, especially because your teachers have (and they've laughed at it), but if you really want to know about the things Fish is talking about here, you would do a lot better reading Mencken's "Chrestomathy" at the least. And then, just maybe, you might begin to have some idea of the sort of country you are inhabiting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
76 of 93 people found the following review helpful
We repress with the best of intentions 22 Nov. 1999
By Walter Hearne - Published on
Format: Paperback
Stanley Fish is a provocative, clever, engaging.....charlatan. His main idea: censorship isn't bad, it just depends on what we're trying to do with it. Fish's most ludicrous claim is that the free speech paradigm is not "tolerant" of those who, like himself, argue for a "more restrictive" approach to expression. Yet here he is, writing, publishing, a profiting from a book with such a view. Did I miss something here? Apparently he feels that because many people vehemently disagree with him, he is not being tolerated. Poor Stanley.
Fish attempts to compare the prohibition of "hate speech" to other limits on expression, such as those on obscenity, fighting words, or matters of national security, without recognizing the miserable failures and excesses that have resulted from all three. His one promising analogy, libel/slander law, is left unexplored.
Fish also claims that the "slippery slope" argument is mere exaggeration. He argues that the PC culture on college campuses cannot be compared to McCarthyism because nobody has really been seriously victimized by it. His one piece of evidence is a quote from a Time magazine article. The Shadow University by Kors and Silvergate gives the lie to Fish's rosy scenario. Fish also fails to account for a mechanism by which we might recover from an unduly expansive or repressive application of his progressive censorship (an ideal borrowed from Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse, an intellectual forebear whom he never acknowledges). Once Fish's program has been fully implemented, it is only a matter of time before such censorship precludes not only "hate" speech but arguments in favor of greater liberty of expression. For example, people often confuse the KKK's right to free speech with advocation of the KKK's views. Despite the logical fallacy of this belief, Fish's "consequentialist" view of speech cannot recognize this distinction. Civil libertarian Nat Hentoff wrote a recent op-ed describing how a woman defending the right of the KKK to rally in New York City was physically attacked by a mob of presumably "progressive" citizens who apparently held this view. THIS IS THE FACE OF "PROGRESSIVE CENSORSHIP." (Nor does Mr. Fish explain how claims of "hate speech" may be adjudicated without ultimately relying the wholly subjective assertions of the supposed victim, to the exclusion of objective fact. Case in point: the word "niggardly" as racist epithet).
Fish's views are typical of leftist scholars who promise us "true" or "real" freedom if only we implement their prescribed policies. The catch is that we may have to curtail some previously cherished freedoms, but don't worry, this is only temporary and done for the sake of the oppressed.....hmmmmm.....where have we heard this before?
What Fish and his ilk can't stand is watching a dynamic process like public discourse continue unimpeded. They feel a need to control it, or direct it, or guide it, or engineer it, however you want to describe it. Sorry Professor Fish, but I must unsheath the cliche he so dreads: the answer to bad speech is more good speech, not to ban the bad speech. When God forbade Adam & Eve from eating the apple, did it stop'em?
25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Thought-Provoking... but for what purpose? 29 Jun. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Free speech does not exist. American democracy is a sham. Our feeling that the holocaust was wrong is merely an irrational emotional reaction. The U.S. constitution allows churches to persecute nonbelievers - and that would be just fine. These - and many other controvertial opinions - are expressed by Stanley Fish, one of the leading postmodernists of today, in this book.
The core of Fish's argument is that *any* discussion, by the mere fact of *being* a discussion that uses words in a certain languages, involves "censorship", because the words, terms, and expressions used in the language have hidden biases in them. Therefore, we are better of without preserving the "illusion" that there is an objective right or wrong, or that democracy is objectively better than fascism, or that the first amendment means anything.
Fish, I think, is pulling an "Andy Kaufman" on us. It is highly unlikely that he actually believes any of this nonsense, despite his articulate defense of it. (Fish is, one must admit, a compelling writer, who can get you convinced - momentarily - of the most absurd nonsense. You only notice the logical lapses, non-sequitors, and stretching of anaolgies *way* past their breaking point - if at all - when you finish the reading.) I think it is much more probably that he just wants to get people angry by taking up a "provocative" position with a seemingly straight face - hence the book's title.
The question is what is Fish's purpose in all this. If his purpose is to get an apathetic public to question and defend their beliefs in freedom of speech and democracy, that is good. But it seems to me more likely that Fish is simply being meritricious for personal gain: he is using his considerable rhetorical and pedagogical talents to defend nonsense, not because he believes it or wants others to object to him, but in order to make a name for himself as academia's "bad boy".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
There's No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too 18 May 2013
By Vicki B. - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is Stanley Fish at his contrary and quibbling finest. His argumentative points are honed to fine poniards with which to skewer opponents, and it really is one of my favorite books. It's one of those books wherein some of the points are a little hard to master, but when you once see what the author means, you're amazed that you never saw them for yourself before. This is a fine companion to any pursuit of literary studies, cultural studies, rhetoric, in fact it's just a plain fine book to read to restore one's common sense level about the way the modern world operates.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Erudite expression of errors. 26 Oct. 2009
By Daniel Brady - Published on
Format: Paperback
First, readers should be warned - if you're not comfortable with the jargon of academia, this book is going to be something of a slog - the author seems to be writing for other academics here, going so far in several of the essays to dispute points made in other articles, by other scholars, without sufficient context for readers who don't read the academic journals.

Once you hack your way through the erudite, convoluted obfuscation of the writing style, you're presented with 17 essays examining a spectrum of topics, largely intended to lead the reader to re-examine basic beliefs and assumptions that may not have previously been closely examined - a worthy goal, and the reason I picked this book up.

The rhetoric is as good as one would expect of a Professor of English, and it's understandable when the text convinces some readerss. The logic of his assertions, however, is remarkably strained, when it appears at all. Much of his reasoning is accomplished by way of case law - he'll take a few legal decisions about the topic, show the flaws in the logic used by the judge in those cases, and present this as proof of his own assertion. This is equivalent to proving that a wall is blue by showing that two people who claimed it as green are color-blind.

He uses unproven assertions, analogy, and observations with little relevance fairly convincingly, but the careful reader will spot the tricks and remain unconvinced.

In academia, one must publish or perish. If one must publish, it is an added benefit if one can re-publish one's work in a book for the general public. This has been used by other members of academia, and there's nothing wrong with it. If you understand the flaw in the logic of 'others have done it well, therefore, Mr. Fish does it well', then this book won't convince you of any of the author's assertions.
starting 30 May 2014
By Robert J. O'Brien - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hope I can get time to read this. I have been to two conferences in the last month, and I am nagged to evaluate this.
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