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Applied Philosophy Online

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Freedom of Speech

Reason as Man’s Most Sacred Right

by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.



With the breaking of the news that the Obama Administration selectively targeted Conservative groups, including the Tea Parties, for special IRS audits of their books, there has been a lot of talk of the Right to Free Speech and the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees the Right to Free Speech regardless of what the administration – any administration – thinks of that speech. This safeguard was put in place when the Founding Fathers of America realized that one way of curtailing tyranny was to make criticism of such tyranny openly possible, so that the free exchange of ideas could take place, people could be warned of government abuses, and those in the know could reason about it and decide what to do about it on the open market of ideas. While this is a profound political insight with regard for the need of free speech to protect our liberties, it only touches on the key importance of free speech, because this virtue is not only for the purpose of protecting our liberties, but goes more deeply and has to do with the nature of the human mind.

The conscious human mind has certain limitations or identities that makes the need to write something out very important for the preservation of reason, rather than simply the preservation of our liberties. It is something Miss Rand spoke about as “the crow epistemology.” In her essay on that topic, she pointed out that the conscious human mind can only retain a limited number of items within its direct awareness – possibly up to five items – at any given glance of consciousness, if you will. For everything else, one needs to either make use of a proper means of integrating one’s ideas in to units that encompass much more than five items – such as the concept “apple” including all apples for all time – or put one’s ideas down on paper for later review so that all those items that were on the mind can be put somewhere without the need to hold them all in one’s conscious attention. As an example of this later principle, try to imagine holding all of the novel Atlas Shrugged into one’s full conscious awareness at any given time and you will find that this is impossible. By putting the story onto paper, Miss Rand made it not only possible for us to be able to read it, but also made it possible for her to be able to conceive of it in the first place. The individual human mind, by its very nature, as something that exists and has identity, means that certain procedures must be followed for the individual human mind to work properly. Miss Rand, though the genius she was, could conceive of the story line in one grasp, so to speak, with her thematic approach to literature, but even her mind would not have been able to retain all the rich detail of the story without her having been able to write it down, to take it from her conscious mind and to put it to paper where she could review it later. In other words, the ability to write things out – to reason on paper – is a profound human necessity due to the limitations of the human conscious mind. And I would argue that this ability to conceptualize and to express reason on paper, is what makes reasoning on a grander scale possible to each and every one of us. Without it, we’d all be stuck on a very limited conceptual grasp of existence.

I think it is in this light, rather than simply the political light, that the efforts to curtail free speech must be understood. It is one thing to want to silence one’s political enemies, but the desire to silence free speech really comes down to the desire to silence the reasoning individual human mind, which is of much greater importance than localized political squabbles, because it goes to the very root of civilization itself – the fact that reason is man’s only tool of survival and the desire to kill reason or to kill free speech is the desire to throttle man’s mind in the most profoundly evil way possible – by substituting a gun for a reasoned argument. It is the desire to take mankind back before the Stone Age and before the advent of language itself: A desire to kill man at his most fundamental root.

It is not so much that people disagree with one another that is the primary problem of civilization and of living together in the great cities of Western Civilization, it is more the fact that many people seek to silence the opposition rather than answering them. The Founding Fathers understood this on a very deeply held reasoned assessment of the Freedom of Speech in a political context. They understood that insofar as tyranny may rise again, that man needed to be able to talk about those usurping political power to curtail freedom and liberties. What I have tried to identify here is that the desire of the tyrant goes much deeper than simply political supremacy; he seeks to destroy the roots of civilization itself; to curtail thinking about anything more complicated that what one chooses to have for breakfast. It is this destructive desire on the part of the tyrant that the rational man must be alerted to more than any other virtue that is encoded in the Rights of Man.