Right speech and free speech: Prof Leslie Green at U Chicago Law School

Indu & Gamini from Indonesia kindly shared this with me today. It addresses an issue of urgent contemporary importance, the relation between free speech and right speech.

On the speaker:

The description on Youtube:

Freedom of speech protects speech that is, for example, offensive. But having the right to offend does not give anyone a reason to offend others. How we should speak is a matter for the norms that govern speaking, not the norms that govern responses to speaking. It is a matter of what it is right to do, not a matter of what rights we have. So: what norms should govern us in speaking? Most Western traditions give little attention to this, apart from the prohibition on lying. Classical Buddhist thought, in contrast, offers a well-developed doctrine of ‘right speech’. In this Lecture, Professor Green will explore that doctrine, give it a partial defense, and suggest ways that right speech can and should be supported while remaining faithful to the principles of free speech.

He has spoken on this topic before.


A very enjoyable hour listening to this talk on the nexus between Right Speech and the Dhamma generally, on philosophy, and on jurisprudence in the area of society and speech. I like Prof. Green’s approach that laws can approximate the Buddha’s approach to ethics and conduct, including speech, such that it is wholesome, aspirational, or ethics based, and not merely proscriptive or punitive, as the law tends to be.

This is a talk I’ll need to watch a few times, but the once through was very good. Good to see a scholar of jurisprudence lean so heavily on the Buddha’s wisdom, and to draw from the deep reservoir of the Nikayas for examples of Right Speech.