Phi 208 Ethics and Moral Reasoning Final Paper






Protecting Freedom of Speech

Student Name

PHI 208: Ethics and Moral Reasoning

Prof. Phil O’Sopher

March 15, 2018

Protecting Freedom of Speech

Part 1: IntroductionPART ONE: INTRODUCTION (Final Revision)

Do we have a moral obligation to protect free speech even in cases where that speech causes harm to others?

This question arose in In August of 2107, when the city of Charlottesville, Virginia became the focal point of violent demonstrations that resulted in injury, death and psychological harm. The violence was the result of clashes between white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville for a planned “Unite the Right” rally to protest the possible removal of the Confederate Statue of Robert E. Lee (Katz, n.d.). (“Charlottesville: ‘Unite the Right Rally” n.d.). The violence included hate speech in the form of signs, chants and a Friday night “Hitler youth” torch rally. These events and the reactions to them launched the issue of free speech into the national spotlight.

Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights cherished by Americans and granted to all through our Constitution, but ethical issues arise when the exercise of that right results in direct harm to others. The primary ethical issue that arises concerns the balance between protecting this fundamental right of speech and preventing the harm associated with hate speech. According to our textbook, ethics asks the question of how we should live and that with “each conscious, deliberate choice we make, we are living out an answer to this question.” (Thames, 2018).

Americans have many rights granted to them by the Constitution, but these rights are not absolute or limitless and they carry with them a responsibility to uphold laws (Brandenburg v. Ohio n.d.). It is perfectly legal to hate someone, but it is illegal to act on that hate if doing so causes harm. From an ethical standpoint, our responsibility to act in certain ways goes beyond merely conforming to society’s laws. When considering the balance between protecting free speech and preventing harm, the ethical theory of Utilitarianism utilitarianism tells us that we should weigh the overall positive and negative consequences of an action (Thames, 2018. Sec. 3.1). When considering whether a given action is moral, the ethical theory of dDeontology tells us that “we should only act on those maxims that we can will to be a universal law” (Thames, 2018,. Sec. 4.2). This paper will use apply the ethical theory of deontology to show that we have a moral duty to protect free speech, . It will consider the objection fromand the ethical theory of utilitarianism to show that protecting hate speech is morally wrong because it produces more negative than positive consequences and is therefore morally wrong, and respond that this objection requires making too many unsupportable assumptions about how we distinguish and weigh benefits and harms, and thus does not override the fundamental right to freedom.

Part 2: Ethical ArgumentPART THREE: ARGUMENT

This section should present the basic argument you will use to support and defend your thesis. Based on the Week One Model Paper Example, here you would present the overall argument you will be making in the paper. Think of this section as what an attorney might say in opening arguments before a jury when they use the phrase: We will show that ______. This section should be short but it should contain the basic premises you will be using and the specific conclusion (the answer to your ethical question) they support.

Place this section under the Part 2: Ethical Argument PART THREE: ARGUMENT heading.


In this section, you will explain and defend your argument by drawing on the moral theory that aligns most closely with the argument you presented above in Part Two. This may be the same theory you discussed in the Week Three Assignment, but it may also be a different theory. In either case, this section should explain the theory just like you did in the Week Three Assignment (a brief account of the historical background of the theory and the philosopher(s) associated with it; and a general overview of the core moral ideal of principle of the theory, including the way it guides and constrains moral reasoning.

The rest of this section should focus on showing how your argument represents an application of the moral reasoning of the ethical theory as it pertains to your ethical question. In other words, if the argument you present in Part 2 is utilitarian, deontological, or virtue-based (teleological), you will want to explain utilitarianism, deontology, or virtue ethics in general terms, then explain how your argument from part 2 reflects or draws upon the core principles and values of that theory.

Place this section under the Part 3: Explanation and Defense PART FOUR: EXPLANATION AND DEFENSE heading.

Part 4: Objection and ResponsePART FIVE: OBJECTION AND RESPONSE

In this section of the paper, you will present the strongest objection you can to your argument, and briefly defend that objection by appealing to a second ethical theory than the one you focused on in Part Three.

To do this, briefly explain the core moral ideal or principle of this second ethical theory and show how that could be the basis for an objection to your argument and its conclusion. For example, if Part Three stated that “freedom of speech should be protected as an absolute right because deontology shows us that we have a moral duty to protect free speech regardless of the harm it might sometimes cause,” in this section you would use either utilitarianism or virtue ethics to raise the strongest possible objection against this conclusion.

You should then respond to the objection by explaining why it is not strong enough to undermine the main argument in defense of your position. For example, if you drew upon deontology to defend your argument, and the objection was from a utilitarian perspective, you could provide a brief defense of the deontological approach.

This section should be around 300 words. Place this section under the Part 4: Objection and ResponsePART FIVE: OBJECTION AND RESPONSE heading.

Part 5: ConclusionCONCLUSION

In this final section, provide a brief summary of the paper. A brief summary describes the overall scope of the paper, and highlights the key points of what you’ve accomplished. If you think of the paper as a trip or journey, the conclusion would summarize where you began, the key points you traveled to along the way, and where you ended.


Brandenburg v. Ohio. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved from

Katz, A. (n.d.). Unrest in Virginia. Time. Retrieved from

Mill, J. S. (1873). Autobiography . Retrieved from

Post Editors (n.d.). Great American thinkers on free speech. Retrieved from

Brandenburg v. Ohio. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved March 24, 2018 from HYPERLINK ""

Charlottesville: ‘Unite the Right Rally, State of Emergency. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2018, from

Great American Thinkers on Free Speech. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2018 from HYPERLINK ""

Mill, J. S. (1873). Autobiography . Retrieved from

Thames, B. (2018). How should one live? An introduction to ethics and moral reasoning (3rd ed.). [Electronic version]. Retrieved from

The Philosophy Pages. (2011). Immanuel Kant. Retrieved from

Velleman, J. D. (2014). Lectures on Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals [Video playlist]. Retrieved from