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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 43, Issue 4, October 2017

Maxime Lepoutre
Pages 851-883

Hate Speech in Public Discourse
A Pessimistic Defense of Counterspeech

Jeremy Waldron, among others, has forcefully argued that public hate speech assaults the dignity of its targets. Without denying this claim, I contend that it fails to establish that bans, rather than counterspeech, are the appropriate response. By articulating a more refined understanding of counterspeech, I suggest that counterspeech constitutes a better way of blocking hate speech’s dignitarian harm. In turn, I address two objections: according to the first, which draws on contemporary philosophy of language, counterspeech does not block enough hate speech; according to the second, counterspeech blocks too much speech. Although these objections should qualify our optimism regarding counterspeech, I demonstrate that each can be turned, with even greater force, against hate speech bans.

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