Psychoanalysis, Speech Acts and the Language of 'Free Speech'

Res Publica VoI.IV no.1 [1998]

22 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2014

See all articles by Sionaidh Douglas-Scott

Sionaidh Douglas-Scott

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law; Queen Mary University of London

Date Written: 1998


A traditional liberal justification of freedom of expression holds that not only does freedom of expression aid us in our search for truth but it also promotes certain key values such as individual autonomy and democracy. This paper suggests an alternative approach. For one surprising feature of the debate over expression and controls on expression is that such debate should take place almost entirely within the terrain of liberal theory. Very little account seems to have been taken of the rich accounts given of speech and language in modern literary and psychoanalytic theory and philosophy of language. The standard liberal approach has been allowed to occupy virtually the whole terrain of discussion over the function of speech and language.

Furthermore, what is taken for granted by this traditional approach is that, free from state interference, people are able to express themselves freely, to find their own truth, attain greater self-understanding and so on; and that, therefore, as much expression as desired should be permitted both in public and in private. A fuller consideration of the work done by speech shows that none of this is necessarily so. The views to be considered here lead us to mistrust speech rather than to prize it as a means to greater self-understanding or truth. They lead us to rebut the traditional presumption in favour of freedom of expression.

Keywords: Jurisprudence, human rights, freedom of speech, First Amendment, Psychoanalysis, Law and Literature, philosophy of language

Suggested Citation

Douglas-Scott, Sionaidh, Psychoanalysis, Speech Acts and the Language of 'Free Speech' (1998). Res Publica VoI.IV no.1 [1998]. Available at SSRN:

Sionaidh Douglas-Scott (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Queen Mary University of London ( email )

School of Economics and Finance
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United Kingdom

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