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‘Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?’ Hate Speech, Harm, and Childhood


Some authors claim that hate speech plays a key role in perpetuating unjust social hierarchy. One prima facie plausible hypothesis about how this occurs is that hate speech has a pernicious influence on the attitudes of children. Here I argue that this hypothesis has an important part to play in the formulation of an especially robust case for general legal prohibitions on hate speech. If our account of the mechanism via which hate speech effects its harms is built around claims about hate speech’s influence on children, then we will be better placed to acquire evidence that demonstrates the processes posited in our account, and better placed to ascribe responsibility for these harms to individuals who engage in hate speech. I briefly suggest some policy implications that come with developing an account of the harm of hate speech along these lines.


The research that led to this paper was supported by a small research grant from the Spencer Foundation (Grant Award No. 201600055). This paper benefited greatly from feedback received from two anonymous referees from this journal. I received helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper from audiences at Macquarie University, the University of Waikato, the University of Leeds Interdisciplinary Applied Ethics Centre, and the Institute of Philosophy in London, and also from Anjalee de Silva, Christina Easton, Toby Handfield, Rae Langton, Maxime Lepoutre, Mary Kate McGowan, Louise Richardson-Self, and Heather Whitney. Thanks also to Michael Olson, Joseph Ulatowski, Joe Saunders, and Ophelia Deroy for the opportunity to present this work at Macquarie, Waikato, Leeds, and the Institute of Philosophy respectively.

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Correspondence to Robert Mark Simpson.

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Simpson, R.M. ‘Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?’ Hate Speech, Harm, and Childhood. Law and Philos 38, 79–108 (2019).

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