Dr. Stanley Fish discusses the first amendment

Fish discusses how free speech is a double-edge concept

Dr. Stanley Fish addressed topics such as free speech, hate speech and academic freedom on April 3 at NDSU. By examining the first amendment he shared his thoughts on how hate speech and free speech are up for interpretation. According to NDSU, Fish argues that free speech is “a double-edged concept — it frees us from constraints, but it also frees us to say and do terrible things.” 

Dr. Stanley Fish is an author and a professor. He has formerly worked and taught at the University of California, Berkeley; John Hopkins University; Duke University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He worked as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during his time at the University of Illinois, according to NDSU. He has authored several books such as, “Sinning Argument,” “How Milton Works” and “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing.” 

Fish presented his finding of free speech at NDSU and answered audience questions. He largely talked about hate speech and its ambiguity. “Hate speech can not be defined because in order to define it, you would have to be able to distinguish in a neutral and non-political way utterances that are hateful from utterances that are not hateful,” he said. According to Fish, this is impossible to distinguish because no values or utterances are universal to everyone in the world. 

He explains how people do not believe that certain speech is hateful because it is their perspective on the world. He stated that people view it as their truth, rather than a hateful action. He explains that people do not view some hate speech as hateful, but rather their freedom to share their own beliefs. 

Fish explained that all hate speech will be political. “Hate speech legislation is irremediable political.” It will always be slanted and biased because of its political nature and the personal perspective on the issue. 

Fish later explained his definition of hate speech by saying, “Hate speech is what your enemy says loudly and effectively.” He stated that people want free speech for themselves and not for the opposing group. 

Fish stated how the operations of the first amendment are rhetorical. “It’s a collection and ensemble of Talismanic phrases and slogans, ritually invoke examples, fabricated entities like the marketplace of ideas, shaky distinctions and then ad hoc exceptions to those distinctions. This is all made up first amendment rhetoric,” said Fish. 

He explained that free speech justifies hate speech in many cases because of its ambiguity. Many court cases try to present free speech as a reason for their actions. The rhetoric of the first amendments helps lawyers justify their defendants actions. 

Fish also explained free speech in higher education. “Students have no free speech rights, it is entirely a matter of the instructor’s discretion,” said Fish. He also stated that the instructors are also limited in their freedoms of speech. “University and college teachers have the freedom only to do that job,” he said. 

The “university is in the business of education, where the advancement of knowledge, not the advancement of free speech interests is the goal and the obligation,” said Fish. 

He explains that Freedom of Speech does not have a specific shape or set of rules which makes it so hard to determine. “We don’t know what Freedom of Speech is. Freedom of speech is, if it’s anything, kind of a chameleon.” 

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