Free Speech, the Search for Truth, and the Problem of Collective Knowledge
SMU Law Review, Vol. 70, pp. 231-52
33 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017
Date Written: November 30, 2017
This article, the written version of the Roy R. Ray Lecture delivered at the Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University, explores a neglected aspect of the search-for-truth and marketplace-of-ideas justifications for a Free Speech Principle. Those justifications, of which Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty is canonical, maintain that a free speech regime can facilitate the growth of knowledge within a society. That argument, however, its empirical dimensions aside, assumes that a society as a collective can know something. Following recent discussions within social epistemology about the possibility (or not) of group belief, this article attempts to unpack the idea of group belief or collective knowledge, and to explore how we might understand the idea of social epistemic advance in a context in which some members of a collective might come to accept truths that they had previously rejected or ignored, but in which other members of the same collective might come to reject the truths they had previously accepted.
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