How Much Does Speech Matter?
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
In Speech Matters (Princeton 2014), Seana Shiffrin explains why lying is wrong, why freedom of speech is right, and why those two views are compatible. This review lauds Shiffrin’s book for its creative and powerful coherence of vision. It lays its claims about both lying and free speech on the same foundation: on a view of sincere communication as a prerequisite for moral agency and moral progress. In this regard, Shiffrin’s book stands in sharp rebuke to the current trend, in the Supreme Court and elsewhere, of assuming that the freedom of speech must include a right to lie. Instead, Shiffrin argues, the reasons that we have freedom of speech are the same reasons that lying is rarely morally permissible. At the same time, the coherence of Shiffrin’s view also reveals a certain symmetry between Kantian accounts of lying and predominant views of free speech, one that not everyone will find salutary. In both, the importance of communication seems to override other interests, even other moral commitments. While Shiffrin articulates a compelling view of why free and authentic communication serves a distinct, indeed a singular, role in moral identity, the question remains whether that role requires quite so much protection, either against lying or in favor of free speech. Nevertheless, Shiffrin’s book puts forth an original and authoritative view on these questions, one that will challenge and instruct anyone interested in lying, free speech, or the communicative responsibilities we owe to ourselves and others.