Last night I was reporting on Warwick’s new Vice-Chancellors first Question and Answer session. There were many topics that particularly stood out to me, so expect to see lots of articles coming up in the next few weeks discussing them. Despite the fact I certainly didn’t agree with everything Stuart Croft was saying to us, at least he was saying it to us. One topic that I thought was especially relevant at the moment was the idea of Free Speech and Academic Debate. Recently I have seen various articles and comments on social media addressing the fact that students feel there seems to currently be a clear moral belief as to what is right and wrong. What is right, ironically, sits on the left with many arguing that if your views are anything other than this ‘moral absolute’, you are therefore wrong and not ‘allowed’ to express your opinion.
As someone who has a left wing approach, I still believe that it is fundamental that I am exposed to right wing views in order to engage in academic discussion. Not only does this allow me to challenge my own moral standing, it also means that I am generally gaining more tolerance. By ignoring things that we strongly disagree with and not allowing these ideas to be spoken freely, we are also losing a chance to discuss, learn and teach.
I read an article this week for my seminar (if you’re interested you can read it here), discussing this matter on a more global scale. Essentially, the articles highlights ‘Godwin’s Law’ that, if a discussion goes on for long enough there will be a comparison made between someone’s views and that of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Although calling upon history during a discussion can highlight the repercussions of certain actions and these comparisons can make us more aware and separate us from the event, which could potentially increase our autonomy, in this case it can also just be compensation for a lack of argument. Not only this, but in many cases it can undermine the historical events significance and merely lead to a fallacy in our association.
For freedom of speech to exist, in my opinion, the opportunity for both sides to express their opinion is necessary. If we prevent others from broadcasting their views then we not only undermine the philosophy of free speech ourselves, but we allow for the things we disagree with to go unchecked and unchallenged. This mentality will not stop people from expressing their views, it will only mean they are expressed in private and never tested in public.
Ethics are subjective and so there is only what an individual believes to be right and wrong. Freedom of speech does not mean there is a clearly marked out set of ethics. It means we can hear others views, leading to us challenge them as well as challenging ourselves. There should be no ‘Left and Wrong’ philosophy, just as there should be no ‘Right and Wrong’ philosophy as, unfortunately, ethics cannot be so easily categorised. Instead, we should have discussion and intelligent debate. As I previously said, you might not like what they are saying but at least they are saying it.
Jamie Lee Jenkins (@JenkinsLeeJamie)