Freedom of expression and conscience
A dialogue between Irinas the dead leaves and Emmanuelles the tortoises. The Irinas believe that life is wait and mystery, but they are willing to seize the opportunities of the moment while remaining nostalgic for the past. They fear the evil that can take on deceptive appearances. The Emmanuelles are reasoners who prefer to trust logic rather than feelings.
Emmanuelles: Irinas, did you hear what Niccolò said last week on Davina and Peter’s show ?
Irinas: yes, he almost convinced us that true and false were just points of view.
Emmanuelles: he has no moral conscience and it is typical of Davina and Peter to invite a guest without thinking about the consequences.
Irinas: so he is guilty?
Emmanuelles: yes, he lied to Eve whatever he claims. That his lie is clever makes him even more guilty because it means that his action was premeditated.
Irinas: yet, as he said, humans have learned a lot from it since they have had to fend for themselves.
Emmanuelles: Adam and Eve didn’t need knowledge since they were happy. Niccolò duped them.
Irinas: ignorance is bliss, right?
Emmanuelles: exactly. They lived in a world where there was neither true nor false, only beings. Do you believe that human leads a better life now that they never know what to decide, what to think, and that they are often at the mercy of those who use “the techniques of Niccolò”, as the Pope said?
Irinas: yet don’t you think that being able to analyze and decide like we do is an advantage over a life without reflection?
Emmanuelles: it gives us a conscience and if reason could steer our actions, we surely could live happily as we would know how to best satisfy our desires but very often, this self-awareness, this awareness of the difficulties that we encounter and the limitations that we have, it saddens us. Reason is therefore only an asset if we use it correctly to analyze situations before making a decision.
Irinas: then if Eve believed Niccolò, he is right, she is the culprit, she did not think enough.
Emmanuelles: Eve knew neither good nor evil so she couldn’t be wary. You cannot be guilty out of ignorance. She got screwed and it wasn’t until later that she understood it. Davina and Peter, on the other hand, they are something else. They know that truth and lies exist so they should proceed carefully so as not to be mistaken instead of thinking that everything, in principle, has equal value.
Irinas: Eve was an easy prey, but them, they think they are in charge when in reality, they are manipulated.
Emmanuelles: that’s right. Eve was the first prey of all those lies created by peddlers who want to take advantage of people’s gullibility. Peter and Davina think they are above that but to allow Niccolò to speak and to encourage him to develop his ideas, it only justifies the existence of false news.
Irinas: it’s to give a platform to lies under the pretext they exist, it doesn’t make sense indeed. Anything that can be bad to others should always be condemned according to a principle of harm which should limit the freedom of expression.
Emmanuelles: absolutely. Freedom of expression is a condition that allows society to progress because it allows the mixing of ideas and it is this argument that Niccolò advances to defend himself, but the will to harm that he had at the beginning is inexcusable.
Irinas: in a way, ethics must precede reason because reason allows us to argue everything and its opposite when ethics is here to limit the possibilities of false speeches that will hamper our happiness.
Emmanuelles: when false speeches are still present, they must be subjected to an enlightened discussion in order to resist the sirens of emotions, to verify who is speaking and why, to weigh things down. This is not what Peter and Davina did.
Irinas: in the name of freedom of expression, they gave a voice to someone who abuses it. It is giving it a legitimacy that it should not have and it’s dangerous.
Emmanuelles: well said! We often believe what we want to believe so it’s easy to fool us but it ultimately comes to the detriment of our well-being. We should not conclude too quickly but it requires prudence, reflection and doubts that go against our desire to be right.
Irinas: so we should not believe anything that people say because truth requires common sense and patience to be reached. Unfortunately, Peter and Davina let themselves be led by Niccolò’s arguments.
Emmanuelles: that’s why we should always be wary of him as he will never change.
Irinas: at least as far as he is concerned, we know where he stands.
Is happiness compatible with censorship?
For Emmuelles, happiness comes either from ignorance or from the enlightened use of reason: censoring the spread of false ideas therefore allows greater confidence in the world and a greater peace of mind because all ideas do not have the same value and some lead us to make bad decisions incompatible with happiness.
For Irinas, it is necessary to establish a principle of harm intended to censor information detrimental to others. It is also a principle which without ensuring happiness, promotes its emergence because it avoids the propagation of false ideas. Ethics must therefore precede reason if we want to be happy.
Is lying sometimes justifiable?
Is ignorance a guarantee of happiness?
Want to think a little more? See, for example, On liberty where Mill discusses the limits of the power of society over the individual and develops the idea of the principle of harm.
Want to contribute to these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Emmanuelles and Irinas? Their favorite books are in the domain library.