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Freedom of speech, 1500-1850$
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Robert Ingram, Jason Peacey, and Alex W. Barber

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526147103

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526147110

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PRINTED FROM MANCHESTER SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.manchester.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Manchester University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MSO for personal use.date: 16 September 2021

Defending the truth: arguments for free speech and their limits in early eighteenth-century Britain and France

Defending the truth: arguments for free speech and their limits in early eighteenth-century Britain and France

Chapter:
(p.135) Chapter 7 Defending the truth: arguments for free speech and their limits in early eighteenth-century Britain and France
Source:
Freedom of speech, 1500-1850
Author(s):

Ann Thomson

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7765/9781526147110.00012

This chapter approaches the question of eighteenth-century discussions of the freedom of speech from the angle of the truth, and the argument for the freedom of speech based on the need to be free to seek the truth, as defended for example by Milton. It begins in England after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695; this led, in the context of debates about censorship and toleration, to criticism of subversive and irreligious pamphlets, together with arguments for free speech based on the right to seek the truth. Across the Channel, the lack of censorship in England was admired, and writers like Voltaire defended freedom for philosophers to publish the truth, on the basis that their writings had no effect on the mass of the people. Thus the defence of free speech founded on the need to seek the truth entails its limitation to those who are capable of exercising their reason in this search, which excludes the mass of the population. There was also discussion of scurrilous or untruthful works, which should not be published with impunity. This chapter brings out the underlying tension between arguments about the freedom to seek the truth and recognition that certain opinions cannot be circulated without restrictions and must be punished. It is to a large extent the commitment to the truth which is behind these limitations. The few defences of completely unrestricted freedom of the press abandon the argument based on the need for the individual to seek the truth and ground it in rights and the interest of the state. And despite certain claims that the truth can be recognised by all, there remains the unresolved question of who can decide on the truth when it is contested.

Keywords:   licensing, Glorious Revolution, Matthew Tindal, toleration, John Toland, Pierre Des Maizeaux, Anthony Collins

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