Silence is the Failure To Do Things with Words

Published: March 25, 2019
Free speech scholar Rae Langton presented the inaugural UCLA Distinguished Lecture in Philosophy

Ellen Evaristo | 

While delivering her vision of how we might “reimagine free speech,” philosopher Rae Langton outlined four required conditions for a healthy free speech environment. First, free speech is for people not for corporations. Second, a successful free speech culture depends upon equality — everyone should feel empowered to participate without fear of reprisal from whomever — whereas forced silence is the result of hierarchy. Third, it requires a supportive community that provides people the training and education necessary to pursue and insist upon the truth. A society that is serious about free speech, Langton said, needs to be serious about supporting the capabilities in people that foster a culture of knowledge, for example, creating educational programs that encourage critical thinking. Last, speakers, active listeners and engaged bystanders who support an egalitarian, knowledge-seeking society are needed for free speech.

“The point of free speech is knowledge. Truth and knowledge,” Langton said recently to an audience of more than 100 UCLA philosophy students, faculty and guests. “Nobody seriously thinks that we are giving up on truth. If we gave up on truth, that would mean the end of democracy. To give up on truth would be to give up on the very thing that gives free speech its point. It matters because of knowledge, and knowledge requires truth.”

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