Alan Haworth

Obama’s debt to Rawls?

Anyone who doubts the ability of philosophy to influence ‘real world’ politics should study the text of Obama’s victory address. They should then read John Rawls’s Political Liberalism. (That’s if they haven’t done so already, of course.)  There are points in the speech at which Obama’s remarks parallel certain key Rawlsian theses in such a striking way that one has to ask oneself if the resemblance could be more than accidental.

Let me give a couple of examples: Continue reading

Free Speech: Some Comments

The issue of free speech has been directly addressed by at least one recent post   and raised during the course of a number of other discussions.  So, here are some of my own observations on the subject.

1        As a rough generalisation, I would say that those who discuss the subject tend to fall into one or the other of two categories. On the one hand, there are those who take a tough line and insist upon the right to express an opinion openly, however unpopular or offensive to others it may be. On the other hand, there are more tender souls who express worries over – e.g. – speech which is threatening, inflammatory, or in some way offensive.   Members of the latter group are sometimes prone to argue that, while the freedom of speech and expression may be of great importance, it is necessary to ‘strike a balance’ between it and other values.


The trouble is that Continue reading

Warsi on ‘militant secularism’.

Here are my initial thoughts on Baroness Warsi’s recent outburst on the subject of ‘militant secularism’. There are two.

The first relates to her reference to ‘totalitarian’ regimes. Can anyone out there tell me what ‘totalitarianism’ is? Does the term  refer to a distinct category of regime, or is it simply a fancy new name  for something quite familiar, namely good old fashioned tyranny or dictatorship? Continue reading

‘No right not to be offended’?: Part Two

Thanks to everyone who commented on my earlier post, the one in which I cast doubt on the popular claim that ‘nobody has a right not to be offended’. Here – at last – are my responses to the various comments people have made. Should an apology be needed, could I apologise for having taken so long to reply.  Perhaps I should also apologise for the length of this reply, but, given the number of interesting responses to my earlier post, I can’t really see how I could have made it any shorter.


I think the best way to organise this response is to set out my original argument step by step, and then deal with the objections which people have raised against each step in turn.  Here, then, is my initial argument in brief summary.


Step One: It is easy enough to think of cases in which (i) one person, P, offends another, Q and which are also (ii) examples of behaviour which any person of normal moral sensibility must recognise as morally wrong. (In my initial post, I illustrated the point with the example of someone who hurls verbal abuse at randomly selected passers-by.)


Therefore, …. Continue reading

‘There is no right not to be offended’: true or false?

‘There is no right not to be offended!’: It’s a popular  slogan.  At least, it must be if Google is anything to go by. I typed the phrase ‘no right not to be offended’ into ‘advanced search’ and came up with ‘about’ 1,780,000 sites.  The slogan is especially favoured by those who, rightly or wrongly,  see themselves as taking a stand for freedom of speech and expression against its enemies, and that includes  Nicholas Hytner, Philip Pullman, John Cleese, Shami Chakrabarti, Rowan Atkinson, Peter Tatchell, Ronald Dworkin, Ricky Gervais, and the late Christopher Hitchens. That’s a fairly broad range of intellectually capable individuals , and I am sure the list could be extended considerably. (I can’t say that I have checked out every single one of the websites in question.)


Even so, there is a major problem with the claim, namely that it is completely false. At least, that is how it looks to me. Moreover, it doesn’t take much of an argument to demonstrate the point. Thus: Suppose that I were approach a randomly selected passer-by and say – e.g. – ‘Oy pigface! You smell like a rat’s backside’. That would be offensive, would it not?  Alternatively, suppose that I were to deliberately offend some person by publicly insulting them on the web. It seems to me that any person whose moral sensitivities are at all normal could only deplore such behaviour. If you agree, then you are thereby recognising  that people have a right not to be treated in such ways, from which it follows, tout court, that there is a right not to be offended, – at least in cases resembling those I have just described. Continue reading