Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


A Perfectionist Defense of Free Speech

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied/Institutional Theory and History

First Advisor

Daniel Jacobson, PhD

Second Advisor

Fred Miller, PhD (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Steven Wall, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Paul, PhD (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

David Jackson, PhD (Committee Member)


This dissertation presents a perfectionist argument for viewpoint neutral free speech. It is argued that developed states ought to maintain or adopt the Viewpoint Neutral Principle:

As a matter of public morality, any public institution is disqualified from intentionally aiming to hinder the expression of any viewpoint by suppression except for purposes of temporary censorship to prevent clear, present, and imminent danger.

This principle allows for regulation but does not allow for censorship due to objectionable viewpoints. After demonstrating how the standard justifications for free speech are not sufficient for the viewpoint neutral principle, I construct a Millian self-development argument drawing from the oft neglected justification of freedom of speech in On Liberty.

Mill argues that a person is not deserving of confidence in his opinion unless he has engaged in certain practices of justification for his own opinions. These practices are the only way to acquire the intellectual virtue of justified belief-forming, and censorship undermines these practices. Furthermore, the intellectual virtue of justified belief forming informs moral virtues which include dispositions to express praise or blame.

Censorship can undermine and, in some cases, make impossible the practices of justification. If the state engages in viewpoint specific censorship of public speech, it undermines the individual pursuit of justified opinion to the extent that it hinders critical reflections, adjustment, and exposition of opinions.

After explicating the argument itself, I apply the justified opinion argument to one contemporary example. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under the auspices of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations has passed articles 7/19 and 7/20. These resolutions violate the viewpoint neutral principle. It is argued that developed nations should reject these resolutions in order to preserve (among other things) intellectual virtue.