The Instigator
Pro (for)
5 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Does free speech give one the right to offend?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/5/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,326 times Debate No: 78412
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (18)
Votes (1)




I will be arguing that freedom of speech does give us the right to offend.


First round must be acceptance

Concessions allowed


Whether or not freedom of speech gives a right to offend, well always end up going to each individual. Which raises some questions

What is offensive? Is it the same for me and someone else.
Should what one person is offended by, determine To what point everyone else can be offended to.
And what is really "freedom of speech"?
And like mostly every other topic it accords with morals.

Well here is a definition of offensive "repugnant to the moral sense, good taste, or the like; insulting".
Like we have that established lets answer the next part. If I were to be 'offensive' to a single person would it be the same to somebody else. Well of course not, individual minds, emotions, and experiences will determine these factors. So no we won't be offended by the same thing.
And no what one person is offended by determine the rest because its an idea, just like 'freedom of speech'. Its not necessarily just literal speech but an idea of representation. With those ideas should we keep them by our morals.

So I'll leave you with this, if freedom of speech is a way of representing an idea, where does the act of 'offending' someone fall into the category of representing and idea. Like the definition I gave you it is but a mere insult just like hate and threat which is not protected with then constitutional right 'freedom of speech'
Debate Round No. 1


First round was only supposed to be for acceptance my friend, but your definitions are alright by me.

My aim here is simple. I will provide overview of the main arguments of what free speech is, and why it gives us the right to offend. Through out this debate I will use free speech not only to cover the spoken word, but also as an expression of ideas.

Any defender of free speech must admit that there must always be a certain limit to this freedom. Complete freedom of speech would entail false advertising, slander against individuals, publishing of illegal (child) pornography. This is important. Self contradictory as it may sound there must still be an element of restriction in the freedom of speech.

But where must this line of restriction be drawn? At what point must something else take priority over freedom of expression? The line must be drawn at violence, and the ability to inflict harm on other individuals. Wendell Holmes captured an important aspect of free speech when he observed that free speech does not entail one the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. The point is simple : Individuals should have freedom of speech up til the point where they harm another person in the process. Thus, I believe offending people by expressing an idea should not be restricted, as it is not actively harming the other person physically.

A point can be raised here about offense causing emotional harm to a person, and therefore can be considered a form of "violence", but then we must address other issues. Is reading a bad book "mental harm"? A bad song "auditory harm"? There is no end to this. Offense is subjective. I might be offended if someone insults my race. Muslim and Jews are offended by each other. Religion offends atheists, and atheism offends religion. My homo phobic aunt is offended by gay people. No one has a monopoly on being offended. As Nigel Warbungton says " Free speech is for bigots as well as polite liberal intellectuals". If we were to go about restricting freedom of expression on bases of offense, then there should be no religious event near to a sensitive atheist's house because it might offend them somehow. Similarly, evolution should not be taught in a biology class where religious people are present in case it sends them into fits of offense spasms. We've thus entered into a spiral of stupidity and nonsense from which there is no escape.

Last point : Restrictions on freedom of speech in turn restrict the emergence of truth. Every idea must be open to scrutiny, criticism, and if need be - ridicule. This may offend some if the idea that is ridiculed is part of their personal world view (existence of God, the abortion issue, the topic on which we are currently debating) but no truth must be infallible no matter how many people accept it. Galileo was right, but the people who opposed him were absolutely certain that he was wrong, they were offended by his ideas and restricted his work. This is the issue at stake here. This is what restriction on free speech on bases of offense leads to.

You may rebuttal this argument point by point or introduce your own argument, but if you choose the former I would like if you addressed it chronologically :)


I completely agree that there must be in some shape or form a method of restriction for freedom of speech.

You stated where should the line of restriction be drawn. The line should be drawn when it instigated any notion of harm, that can be emotional, physical, mental or even to someone credibility. If you believe that the line should be drawn until the point of physical harm, then what about offenses that inflict emotional damage to an individual. If were to say to a person suffering from severe depression, "Go kill yourself fagg*t, nobody wants you alive, nobody cares about you" and does it repeatedly. This individual is repeatedly going threw this emotional harm. Is this alright for our society to let stand. People may also think, well as long as he is physically okay then its fine. What if all these offenses directed to the individual lead to a physical harm. For example, if the individual begins to inflict harm on themselves by cutting etc. Or even is lead to the point of suicide just because anybody has the right to offend, the individual who told all these harsh things, to the emotionally crippled individual, should walk free because he didn't do anything wrong and in no way is at fault for that act.

Another offense that is not physical and we know about is that of an individual public image. If I were to call you a 'pedophile', 'rapist', 'thief', 'murder', a 'necrophiliac', would you not be offended by these false accusations. So if I were to spread it threw social media, papers, friends and family would you not be outraged by this offense and damage to your public image and now everyone thinks you're a pedophile who rapes children who killed and stole from them and fornicated with there corpses. No one would want this kind of offense directed toward them and damaging there image. This is the reason we have defamation laws in place to prevent this acts. These defamation laws are in place not because it may cause a form of physical harm but because it tarnishes someone life. These laws is a way we today in the United States we restrict Freedom of speech in the form of offense.

If I were to tell an African-American, " Hey n*gger, go pick my cotton then head back to Africa you trash", tell a white southerner," ayy white trash are you gonna go f*ck your sister" , tell a religious Islam " are you gonna go bomb my house next", tell a pastor" get away fro my child you're rape him like all the little boys", tell a woman "you can't drive, you should stay at home and take care of the child and be mans possession" or tell me a Hispanic " go moe my fuckin lawn you spic trash", any of these people would take this offense when it is directed toward them. At this point it is not a mere offense but hate speech toward a person or group, which is not defended by the constitutional right of freedom of speech.

(I do believe you are heading way off the reservation and not talking about freedom of speech but of religion, please do not try to leave the topic at hand)

So with this I say people do not have the right to offend but have the freedom to criticize. They may criticize a religion, act, idea, movement etc. As long it is not directed to an individual specificly. An atheist can say "What Christians believe is irrational." The atheist is not criticizing a specific Christian but in the belief system of Christianity, there ideas and what they believe in but not a certain person. If someone were to be "offended" by what the atheist said, then at that point it is the man or woman's fault for choosing to be offended when nothing was said of them.
Debate Round No. 2


I find fault within some of your arguments here, and I'll address them passage by passage.

You bring up the point of defamation of character, general indecency and hate speech. I'll address them in separate paragraphs.

I already specified how free speech does not give protection from false accusations, slander and libel. I quote myself "Ability to inflict harm on another person". It is not the expression of an opinion and idea, but a deliberate attempt to cause harm to another, which is the reason that I place this restriction. If I were to accuse a man of raping someone (assume here that I'm a clever liar and very convincing) while in the presence of a mob that's protesting rape, then I deliberately put him in danger and harm.

As for the other two, an expression must never be squashed down simply because it is annoying, shocking, or even immoral.This is what must happen in a free society, one must develop a "shield" to deal with offense. As a user who commented on this debate said "Offense is taken, not given". He is right. As I have stated, a person must only be punished for his free speech when he causes the harm intentionally. You mention depressed individuals and suicide, The words do actually initiate a process where the depressed person commits suicide, but this still does not allow us to say that the one who insulted him intentionally caused the suicide. Without knowing the objective probability that a suicide would follow his words, we only have a bizarre but tragic coincidence.

As for hate speech, racism, here are where things get a little tricky and where we must assign a value to freedom of speech and categorize harm. If I were to go up to a person I dislike and "express" myself with a bat, this is harm. Spread false rumors that leads to someone getting jailed, this is also harm. Racial slurs, most definitely, but only when they are a precedent to racial attacks. In some countries racial insults are cause for imprisonment but not because of offence, but because they are most of the time leading up to racial attacks and harm ( If someone is telling a black person to "pick up the cotton and go back to Africa" as you put it, then it follows to reason that they are not far away from donning a KKK costume and shooting up a black people church. My point is some types of harm are more serious then the others. Offending someone is less serious than harming someone, and thus free speech must take priority over feelings. Expanding on hate speech and racial slurs, free speech is unavoidable in countries that aim for racial and ethnic fairness. If weak or disliked minorities wish to be protected from any sort of discrimination by law then they have to endure whatever insults and ridicule people throw, because only a nation that allows such insults may truly and completely adopt those laws.

You say that I tried to make this debate about religion. There is no passage where I talk about religion other then in context of free speech. Religion must always crop up in a discussion about free speech because most religious people believe that their respective faiths deserve special protection from freedom of speech (as in the case of Islam and the Danish cartoons, or the Jerry Springer sketch that offended Christians everywhere). If there is any place in my earlier argument where I discuss religion and don't link it to free speech, then quote that particular line please.

You also say that criticism of ideas and beliefs should be allowed- but not the individual. Firstly, I'll say that criticism of one's idea or belief system is even more likely to cause offense then insulting the individuals themselves.You said -and I quote- "man or woman's fault for choosing to be offended when nothing was said of them". You see, something is said of them. Ideas, beliefs,views held by people are a part of them. Case in point:

There was a book written about the Holy Quran by the name of "Satanic Verses". You can gather from the title of the book that the contents weren't very pleasing to Muslims. Protests were held, the book was banned in Islamic countries, fatwahs (condemnations) were issued against the authors. I think it's safe to say that they were very much offended, but not one criticism had been raised against their individual character. It was their belief that was threatened with ridicule, and they took offense on behalf of it. Ergo, criticism of belief leads to offense on an individual basis.

Now we come to my point with this. You said that an atheist can criticize a Christian's belief. By criticizing Christianity, you offend the Christian. Thus, a person has the "right to offend" another individual under free speech. This is derived from your own argument.

This is the last round for me, so thanks for the debate, I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading your response. I urge people to vote for whichever side they think is right.


Then I will leave at that because I would like to give you the last round because I did start giving my definitions and argument in the first round. I also looked forward to you're arguments as well. I apologize if I might have taken to long for any responses, I'm very engrossed at the moment with things I have to get ready before i head off to start my undergraduate studies.

I thank you very much for this debate. I likes your conduct and wish to have another debate with you again. Good luck and have nice day.
Debate Round No. 3
18 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Drewpants 2 years ago
Thanks for the heads-up hldemi.
Posted by hldemi 2 years ago
You dont need to provide those. Just contact airmax1227 and ask him to manually verify your account. No info is needed. But you also need to have at least 3 debates done in order to gain voting right. This is to avoid noob and bot votes.
Posted by Drewpants 2 years ago
Jenima - Nor does it mean it is always wrong.

And for the record - I would have voted, but when I tried started asking for more information than I felt it needed.
Posted by hldemi 2 years ago
@Jenima Morally right or epistemologically right ?

Also it should be noted that you dont necesarilly offend by practicing free speech that is offensive.

You have the right to TRY to offend. I repeat : Offense is taken not given.
This is not like me punching you so that you feel physical pain. You cannot avoid that. But you can discipline your mind not to be offended at anything that is said.

But Its also important to note that you trying to offend someone for the purpose of your own enjoyment is definitely morally wrong thing to do. However If you do it because it might give great incentive to the offended to rethink their position, then It might not be morally wrong at all. I can offend someone for having stupid ideas and help them rethink about it and change it for the better.

Its not the act that is morally right or wrong but the intention behind the act.
Posted by kingofthewatermelons 2 years ago
What does right mean to you? What's right by my standards might not be right by yours. That's why debates on abortion, death penalty etc are so popular here. For Buddhists and Hindu eating meat is morally wrong. For me, not so much.

Also thanks for voting on the other debate!
Posted by Jenima 2 years ago
Of course free speech gives a right to offend somebody, but that doesn't mean its right!
Posted by hldemi 2 years ago
I certainly dont mind if you quoted me.

Also you should not debate for the sake of people voting on it. You should be here to learn. If you learn you win. It does not matter what judges say or vote. Only you matter !
Posted by kingofthewatermelons 2 years ago
Done. If no one votes on it then it just feels like both me and Drakodelta were just wasting time.

Also hope you don't mind that I quoted you in one of my arguments. Cheers!
Posted by hldemi 2 years ago
Post this debate in forum under voting section to that people see it to vote on it
Posted by kingofthewatermelons 2 years ago
This is my first completed debate, what happens now? No one will vote
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Midnight1131 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Arguments to Pro. Pro makes good points when they say that limiting freedom of speech to ensure that you can't offend anyone will lead to nonsensical situations, such as religious students not having to learn evolution, bad books that offend people do not deserve to be banned, and neither does bad music. Con on the other hand didn't really refute any of this, they simply gave their own examples of harmful speech. Pro also refuted Con's argument successfully, when Con said that offending ideas and beliefs should be allowed, but not the individual. Pro showed that offending an individual's ideas and beliefs is equivalent to offending the individual themselves. In the end, Pro successfully showed how freedom of speech does give the right to offend. Sources were only used by Pro.