Philosophy: Language, 'Cancel Culture' and Freedom of Speech

Ref: C2346592

The right to free expression has been used to criticise 'cancel culture', and the harmful consequences of opinions have been used to justify restricting free expression. This course uses philosophy to examine language, power, freedom and responsibility. The course will cover : 1. What ‘freedom of speech’ means, why it is considered important, and arguments for and against limiting it ( J S Mill and current approaches); 2. language as a system of pre-existing meanings; 3. words have consequences; 4. language and power relations (M Fricker, critiques of colonialism and others); 5. speaking, intention, and responsibility (individual and collective; unintended consequences; using ethical theories including J Habermas); 6. arguments for and against prohibiting certain words, phrases or symbols. A related course on the wider topic of tolerance and its limits will be offered after Easter.

Course aim

This course is an opportunity to examine the relations between language (including non-verbal language e.g. statues), power, freedom and responsibility using philosophical approaches.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • give reasons for protecting freedom of speech
  • give reasons for restricting freedom of speech
  • explain how language and power are connected
  • explain at least two contrasting responses to the question “Are people responsible for the harmful consequences of the words they use ?"
  • give reasons for your judgement on whether certain words, phrases or symbols should be prohibited

How will I be taught?

What kind of feedback can I expect?

What else do I need to know?

This is an online course. You will therefore need an email address, reliable Internet access, and a CANVAS account. Help with CANVAS is available form the national WEA team.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

What can I do next?

View full course information sheet

Philosophy: Language, 'Cancel Culture' and Freedom of Speech


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2021
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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