A Critical Notice of the Hateful and the Obscene by L.W. Sumner
Posted: 21 Jun 2007
In The Hateful and the Obscene, Sumner offers a consequentialist reading of John Stuart Mill's political philosophy that blinds him to the complexity and normative attractions of Canadian law's response to hate speech and pornography. This essay argues that qualified deontological moral philosophy provides a more adequate basis on which to understand the bodies of law examined by Sumner. The qualified deontological analysis is more adequate since it (unlike consequentialism) provides a basis on which to account for the presence within Canadian law of incommensurable values. The analysis offered here also addresses three further weaknesses in Sumner's text. Sumner offers an inadequate account of the role played by the concept of community in the law's operations. He also fails to recognise that a strong commitment to identity politics has shaped the development of Canadian law. But perhaps the most significant weakness in "The Hateful and the Obscene" is Sumner's adoption of a "Millian" position on free expression that fails adequately to address the threats posed by those political activists who seek to undercut liberal democracy's foundations.
Keywords: obscenity, anti-hate law, utilitarianism, L.W. Sumner
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