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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Decent LifeA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst 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BackwardsBending ScienceBernard WilliamsBetter Humans?Better Than WellBeyond BioethicsBeyond ChoiceBeyond GeneticsBeyond HatredBeyond Humanity?Beyond LossBeyond LossBeyond Moral JudgmentBeyond SpeechBeyond the DSM StoryBias in Psychiatric DiagnosisBioethicsBioethicsBioethics and the BrainBioethics at the MoviesBioethics Beyond the HeadlinesBioethics Critically ReconsideredBioethics in a Liberal SocietyBioethics in the ClinicBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical Research and BeyondBiosBioscience EthicsBipolar ChildrenBluebirdBodies out of BoundsBodies, Commodities, and BiotechnologiesBody BazaarBoundBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBraintrustBrandedBreaking the SilenceBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyCapital PunishmentCase Studies in Biomedical Research EthicsChallenging the Stigma of Mental IllnessCharacter and Moral Psychology Character as Moral FictionChild Well-BeingChildrenChildren's RightsChimpanzee RightsChoosing 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Controversies in Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Doing HarmDouble Standards in Medical Research in Developing 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WillsEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthicsEthicsEthicsEthics and AnimalsEthics and ScienceEthics and the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Beyond the LimitsEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow CreaturesFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to 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Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and 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Long before I studied philosophy my father taught me a profound lesson about speech. He was a proponent of the old observation that one should "say what you mean and mean what you say". One day as he left for work he asked me, a boy of six, to pick up some trash from the back yard. "I will, Daddy!" said I with enthusiasm.
Upon returning that evening he asked if I had completed my chore. Having completely forgotten about my promise, I nevertheless responded "Oh, yes, Daddy!" not even considering that he would have seen the back yard when he drove his pickup into the back.
"Good boy," he said. "go get your piggy bank and I will pay you for your work." I got the piggy bank, sat on his lap, and he dropped two nickels into the bank. Each one seemed to shout "LIAR" as it landed in the ceramic pig.
I ran outside and did the cleanup I was supposed to have done during the day. Those coins dropping into that bank taught me that speech matters.
In human social life, the principal object is to communicate our attitudes, and hence it is of the first importance that everyone be truthful in respect of his thoughts, since without that, social intercourse ceases to be of any value. Only when a person voices his opinions can another tell what he thinks, and if he declares that he wishes to express his thoughts, he must also do it, for otherwise there can be no sociality among men. Fellowship among men is only the second condition of sociality; but the liar destroys this fellowship, and hence we despise a liar, since the lie makes it impossible for people to derive any fenefit from what he has to say. – Immanuel Kant, from his "Lectures on Ethics" [the head note to Chapter One]
Today we seem to be awash in BS. The "false news" meme is everywhere and people in many parts of the world have lost faith in organizations, public bodies, politicians, and in government. It is a particularly important time to be considering the nature and importance of speech – to remember that "Speech Matters."
A recent study from Pew Research Center shows that public trust in government remains near historic lows in the USA even as the political landscape shifts. "Just two-in-ten Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do hat is right "most of the time."
In Canada our defense minister, the first Sikh to ever hold the position, is a decorated soldier who was awarded the Order of Military Merit for dedication and devotion to duty for his battlefield effort in Iraq s trying to explain why he embellished his record I public speeches. He is under fire by the Opposition and has been urged to resign his position. "The Minister of Defense has told a whopper about his record. That is not something for which you apologize, it is something for which you step down," said an opposition leader in the House of Commons. Many citizens are saying the Minister has betrayed our trust in him. Speech matters.
Citizens are also aware of the occasional misstatement made in the advertising world, of exaggerated claims and unsupported statements. I addition there is an almost universal distrust of political utterances. Social media spread BS quickly and easily. Thoughtful discourse seems to be at an all time low point. A recent episode of "Law and Oder: SVU" highlights a story concerning an online "news" site that was targeting a congressman with false allegations of sex trafficking. The consequences were disastrous though fictional. When a popular television series makes a social concern the theme for an episode it becomes obvious that the concern is widespread. Speech matters.
Shiffrin's book is a carefully reworked and brilliantly argued effort arising from the Carl G. Hempel Lecture Series. It consists of an introduction and six chapters:
1. Lies and the Murderer Next Door
2. Duress and Moral Progress
3. A Thinker-Based Approach to Freedom of Speech
4. Lying and Freedom of Speech
5. Accommodation, Equality, and the Liar
6. Sincerity and Institutional Values
Each chapter advances the argument that speech matters. Why? Because as her opening sentences sate: "We cannot develop or flourish in isolation. Our mutual interdependence is not merely material but also, importantly, mental. The exchange of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, perceptions, and ideas with others is essential to each person's ability to function well as a thinker and as a moral agent." Speech matters.
Shiffrin draws on Kant's deontological argument as a basis for her moral positon in our contemporary society, while yet taking into consideration the ways in which consequences enter our complex human acts. Her analysis is deep, her examples thought provoking, and she confronts many complicated issues that are important such as police lies, puffery, and institutional values.
© 2017 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.