Read the essay below and help the author find the best revisions of information and inferences by answering the questions that follow. This essay was written for an audience of classmates to be read as part of a classroom presentation. The presentation is supposed to focus on this Voltaire statement: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Was Voltaire Really Serious About That?

A painting/portrait of the French writer & philosopher Voltaire. He is wearing a long haired wig and formal clothing which were customary in the late 18th century.

Source: Voltaire, Catherine Lusurier, Wikimedia

What could Voltaire have been thinking? Was he really serious? Was he really thinking about what he was saying? I mean, he said, “unto the death.” He said he would “defend unto the death” your right to say what you want. That is pretty hardcore: to be willing to stand up for someone else’s rights when it doesn’t affect you. How many of us at this high school are willing to make an effort to support authorization of a club we have no interest in joining? How many of us who are guys are willing to support more money being allotted to girls’ sports? How many of us are willing to help out at a car wash fundraiser for the Latin Club, even if we are not ourselves studying Latin—just so that other students have a Latin Club to go to?

A graphic with reads: “Young Citizen: Ready to Go.”

Source: Young-citizen, Mediahaus, Wikimedia

I would find this sense of shared citizenship both amazing and admirable: to support someone who isn’t really a part of your own life. I have an uncle who has Parkinson’s disease and my aunt, his wife, is now very active raising money for Parkinson’s research. Michael J. Fox is a big advocate for Parkinson’s research also. It is great that these people are involved in helping their fellow human beings, and it makes sense to me that they are involved in campaigns to find solutions for problems that they live with. I’m sure that when I have children if one of them has a disability or disease that needs people to support research and raise money, I will want to be part of that effort. It only makes sense to work for what affects you. There are so many possible “good causes” to give money to or to volunteer with that it is impossible to give equally to all of them, or even to give anything to all of them. People usually choose to give their time and money to a cause or principle that has some connection with their own lives. That is why it amazes me that Voltaire is willing to give not just some money or some time but his life to defend the right of other people to say what’s on their minds, to defend the right of people with whom he has no connection.

A photograph of two WNBA basketball players during a game. There are referees and a large seated crowd in the background

Source: VJ and Shannon, _cheryl, Flickr

But I haven’t even come to the most startling part yet. Voltaire didn’t just say he would defend other people’s right to speak their minds, but that he would defend other people’s right to speak in support of ideas that he did not agree with. He was even willing to die for the right of these people to speak. What does this mean? It means that if I were a girl and a bunch of guys decided that it was ridiculous to spend more money on girls’ sports because most people were more interested in guys’ sports, that I would be willing to support the guys’ right to talk about that idea and make posters in support of it. I would be willing to go to the administration and say that these guys (these jerks!) whom I don’t agree with and don’t even like, who have this completely chauvinistic idea that boys’ sports take precedence over girls’ sports, should be allowed to have a rally in support of this idea. Would you do that, if you were a girl? If I understand Voltaire correctly, he would.

It’s one thing to allow everyone to have a say—but to be willing to fight to the death for people’s right to speak even though you really disagree with them? This is, I think, what it means to live life as a philosopher. I’m not so sure that Voltaire was not just spouting some philosophy when he said this. Maybe he was. However, if he was serious about living his life in this way, it means that he would defend to the death some people’s right to speak even when there was something really good on television, or when he had an important meeting the next day (like the SAT or an AP exam). It’s a wonderful ideal, but it’s a hard way to live. Nevertheless I do not want to discount this way to live as an unachievable position. The American Civil Liberties Union supported the right of a neo-Nazi group to hold a march through a suburb of Chicago in 1977. When I first heard about this, I found it hard to understand how the ACLU could support a group of white supremacist, violence-advocating extremists. However, I think Voltaire would have agreed with the ACLU. Ultimately this is not a completely selfless position. As a philosopher, Voltaire can take a long view of this situation: if the free speech of these people is secure, it secures the freedom we all have to say what we think needs to be said. Sometimes philosophy makes the most sense when it doesn’t at first seem to make sense at all.

The writer wants to revise this essay to publish it in a local paper’s opinion page. Which of the following is the most important change the author should make in revising the organization of this essay for a general audience?

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