Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
give you the ‘motivation’ to avoid doing stupid things (and enables you to do things
which, without the chip, you would lack the will to do):

  • You chooseto have the chip implanted.

  • Youcontrol it and you can ‘time limit’ it.

  • You can select from a software menu which actions you would like to be
    prevented or ‘willed’: getting up in the morning, not drinking too much, doing
    exercise and so on.

  • Because it can be fun you can randomise for risk – for example, you can
    programme it to stop you drinking too much three times out of four.
    If you find the chip attractive, then what is the fundamentaldifference between
    implanting the chip and asking the state to stop you doing certain things? Of course,
    we might trust the chip, but not politicians – this is, however, a non-fundamental
    difference. That said, the fact that you can decide which actions you would like to
    be prevented from doing – or given the will to do – suggests a level of autonomy
    not characteristic of those subject to the paternalistic controls outlined in the box
    on paternalistic laws (go down the list and ask yourself how likely it is that the
    individuals who are subject to paternalistic action would actually consent to those

Expression and harm

We turn now from action to expression. It is sometimes thought that, in the words
of the children’s nursery rhyme, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words
will never hurt me’. However, as Thomas Scanlon suggests, expression can cause
harm (Scanlon, 1972: 210). His examples include: (a) direct physical harm, as when
your voice causes an avalanche; (b) a situation when one person intentionally places
another in apprehension of imminent bodily harm as a result of a threat (‘assault’
as distinct from ‘battery’); (c) public ridicule to the point where a person’s reputation
and livelihood are destroyed; (d) shouting fire in a crowded theatre; (e) issuing an
order to another; (f) advertising the means to cause destruction (Scanlon, 1972:
210–12). Scanlon argues that some of these ‘expressive acts’ should be prohibited
but expression should not be prohibited simply because it is harmful. Expression,
he argues, has a special status.
Scanlon distinguishes two types of argument for freedom of expression – appeal
to a social good and appeal to individual rights. Put simply, a person can justify
their freedom of expression by saying (a) society benefits from my expression, or
(b) I have a right to express myself. These are not mutually exclusive positions, but
despite his emphasis on individual freedom Mill’s defence of free expression is
primarily derived from (a). Scanlon argues (basically) for type (b), but maintains
there are social benefits to freedom of expression. Scanlon’s argument has to be
located in a broader theory of political obligation (Chapter 19 Civil disobedience).
He maintains that state power has to be justified, and that means citizens must
retain a degree of moral autonomy – that is, the capacity to make independent
moral judgements, and thus be able to criticise those laws which they have a moral
obligation to obey. Citizens can accept that their actions may be coerced – they can
be prevented from doing something – but they will not be prepared to give up their

46 Part 1 Classical ideas

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