Dangerous Speech


We seek papers on any topic relating to the broad theme of dangerous speech – speech that incites, provokes, or otherwise instigates others’ moral wrongdoing. We especially welcome papers that examine the normative status of speech that is traditionally conceived as protected by the right to free expression, but that nevertheless provokes others to act wrongly. Please email an abstract, between 300 – 500 words, to Jeffrey Howard (jwhoward@essex.ac.uk) by 1 June 2015 if you would like to be considered.


“I am responsible for what I do, and you are responsible for what you do. But on any credible view I need to give attention, in what I do, to what you will do in consequence. And you need to give attention, in what you do, to what I will do in consequence. In that sense, there are two parts of morality. There is what I should do simpliciter, and then there is what I should do by way of contribution to what you do.” — John Gardner

This workshop will examine the normative status of speech that has some causal relationship to others’ moral wrongdoing. While we will accept papers on any topic that falls into this broad category, we especially encourage papers that address the following:

Incitement and its cousins. While it is commonplace to hold that inciting others to engage in unjustified violence is morally objectionable, the exact nature of this speech- act’s wrongness (like the nature of complicity generally) remains widely disputed. Is an instance of incitement wrong only if it has some actual causal effect? Is it enough that it is likely to have had some effect? Or is its wrongness non-causal? Note that incitement to violence is only one way in which agents can instigate others’ wrongdoing. There are many ways in which one’s speech—encouraging, suggesting, tempting, persuading—can be bound up with the wrongful choices of others. What determines which instances of instigation are morally wrongful, and thus potentially criminalizable, and which are not?

Provocation. It is widely believed that if A has been provoked by B’s speech into ‘violating’ B’s right, then, under certain conditions, A enjoys either a justification or an excuse for her conduct. But what is the moral status of the initial provocation? Why, exactly, is it wrongful? What kind of utterance from B (beyond a direct threat to harm A) could serve to forfeit B’s rights against A’s aggression (or serve to exculpate that aggression)? If the analysis relies upon an account of what a reasonable person would do, as the law suggests, what is the standard of reasonableness?

The boundaries of hate speech: offence, satire, and free expression. The violent crimes against Charlie Hebdo have reignited significant discussion about what, exactly, constitutes hate speech and whether it should be criminally prosecuted. But there is a distinct normative question posed by these events. Even if we assume a wide interpretation of free speech—even if we insist that offensive and even hateful speech is rightly protected by the legal right to free speech—there may be ethical limits on how individuals should choose to exercise that legal right. Do agents have a moral duty to refrain from exercising their legal right to free speech when it is likely such exercise will inspire unjustified violence? Do victims of unjustified attacks have a complaint not merely against their aggressors, but against those whose speech provoked such aggression, even when that speech seems otherwise morally protected? Or would such a view constitute a pernicious concession to unreasonableness?

2 thoughts on “Dangerous Speech

    • Hi Joanna,

      Thanks for getting in touch. This year’s workshops are 1-3 September. Particular workshop sessions are not allocated until nearer the time, when each has a list of speakers. Please feel free to get in-touch if you have any other questions.

      Kind regards,

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