This article seeks to explore the conceptual structure and moral standing of an idea that has received almost no attention from analytical philosophers: self-censorship. It is argued that at the heart of the concept is a tension between the thoughts of the self-censor as, on the one hand, the author, and on the other, the instrument, of the censorship. Which of these aspects is emphasised also importantly helps shape how self-censorship is viewed normatively. Focusing on authorship tends to lead to seeing self-censorship as more akin to a freely chosen act of self-restraint, while focusing on the self-censor as instrument presents it as one specific form of ordinary censorship. It is the tension between these two aspects that accounts for the moral ambivalence that is often felt towards the practice of self-censorship.
KeywordsAuthorship Autonomy Censorship Freedom of expression Self-censorship
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Morrell Conference on ‘Self-Censorship’ held at the University of York in September 2008; the meeting on ‘Religion and Freedom of Expression’, forming part of the AHRC/ESRC Seminar Series on ‘Religion and Society’, in Oxford in December 2008; and the Keele Philosophy Research Seminar in May 2010. I am very grateful for the helpful and stimulating discussion that the paper received on all three occasions as well as to the valuable comments on the final draft by Peter Jones and an anonymous referee for Res Publica.
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