What is hate speech? Part 1: The Myth of Hate


The issue of hate speech has received significant attention from legal scholars and philosophers alike. But the vast majority of this attention has been focused on presenting and critically evaluating arguments for and against hate speech bans as opposed to the prior task of conceptually analysing the term ‘hate speech’ itself. This two-part article aims to put right that imbalance. It goes beyond legal texts and judgements and beyond the legal concept hate speech in an attempt to understand the general concept hate speech. And it does so using a range of well-known methods of conceptual analysis that are distinctive of analytic philosophy. One of its main aims is to explode the myth that emotions, feelings, or attitudes of hate or hatred are part of the essential nature of hate speech. It also argues that hate speech is best conceived as a family resemblances concept. One important implication is that when looking at the full range of ways of combating hate speech, including but not limited to the use of criminal law, there is every reason to embrace an understanding of hate speech as a heterogeneous collection of expressive phenomena. Another is that it would be unsound to reject hate speech laws on the premise that they are effectively in the business of criminalising emotions, feelings, or attitudes of hate or hatred.


Versions of this two-part article were presented at the UEA School of Law Seminar in 2013, the UEA School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communications Studies internal speaker series in 2016, and the American Philosophical Association (APA) Pacific Division conference in 2016. I am very grateful to all those who attended and provided excellent comments on those occasions. During the course of writing I also benefited immensely from input of ideas and corrections by Susan Brison, Eugen Fischer, Michael Frazer, Robin Jeshion, Eric Kaufmann, Mary Kate Mcgowan, Catherine Rowett, Adriana Sinclair, and Robert Simpson. Finally, I would like to thank the journal’s anonymous reviewer for much positive support and numerous helpful suggestions.

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Correspondence to Alexander Brown.

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Alexander Brown is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Social and Political Theory at the University of East Anglia (UEA). He joined UEA in 2009 prior to which he was a lecturer in legal and political theory at University College London (UCL) (2005–2009). He is the author of Hate Speech Law: A Philosophical Examination (Routledge, 2015), Ronald Dworkin’s Theory of Equality: Domestic and Global Perspectives (Palgrave, 2009), and Personal Responsibility: Why it Matters (Continuum, 2009).

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Brown, A. What is hate speech? Part 1: The Myth of Hate. Law and Philos 36, 419–468 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10982-017-9297-1

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