Read the essay below and answer the questions that follow. The essay responds to a quotation by Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

marble statue of Voltaire that has been photographed from the waist up

Source: untitled, Paola Frogheri, Fotopedia

(1) When Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” I wonder if he had to stop himself from adding, “Of course, there are some obvious exceptions.” (2) Being free to speak your mind is fine, but being able to say whatever you feel like saying has some real-world limitations. (3) In a classroom situation, a teacher can prohibit hateful insults, and it would be hard to imagine a reasonable objection to a teacher prohibiting such language. (4) We can agree with Voltaire’s defending “your right to say it,” only if we define “what you have to say” as an opinion and exclude any hateful insults.

(5) Opinions are different from insults. (6) Viewpoints can be discussed; calling someone names cannot. (7) If a student is discussing some issue and says to a fellow student, “you might be wrong in your thinking,” the fellow student, or the class in general, can discuss this: Why does the first student think the other student is wrong? (8) Could they both be right depending on circumstances? (9) Is there a way to determine who is right and who is wrong? (10) All of these questions provide interesting topics for discussion. (11) If the first student says to the fellow student, “That is so stupid. You are a blockhead,” the class is much less likely to take this up as a topic of discussion. (12) The only discussable aspect of this outburst is why it is not appropriate and whether there are situations where it would be appropriate. (13) Clearly, a classroom is not one of those situations.

(14) Insults come in two sizes: One size is for a particular person, and the other size is for groups. (15) Individual insults such as the one in the previous paragraph are intended to hurt just one person and are usually delivered face to face. (16) You may say, “I don’t think these are intended to hurt people. They are just a way of having some fun and lightening up the conversation.” (17) This is sometimes true. (18) For now, however, we are considering only the insults that are intended to be hurtful. (19) Strange as it might seem, the group insults are usually directed, not at the group being insulted, but at an individual. (20) However, these insults use the hurtful attitude toward a whole group of people as a way to hurt the individual. (21) We can’t discuss examples of most insults like this without the discussion itself being inappropriate. (22) An example we can use would be the word “babyish.” (23) If you call someone “babyish,” you are using a negative attitude toward babies (as a group) to insult the person being called the name. (24) This is a very mild example of a type of insult that can be extremely hurtful. (25) You probably understand what the more potent examples would be.

(26) The problem with the second type of insult is that it is primarily insulting to a group of people who are absent from the situation where it is used. (27) Its effect is to perpetuate and intensify a negative attitude toward a group of people. (28) This is the type of insult that can be referred to as “hate speech.” (29) It is very important to recognize that in a use of this type of insult, a person cannot make it right by apologizing to the person who was called “babyish.” (30) The apology would have to be to the group: in this case all of those innocent babies that just got dissed when they weren’t even around to defend themselves. (31) Voltaire might defend our right to state an opinion, as long as it is something that can be discussed. (32) Voltaire, however, would not defend our right (because we have none) to use language to hurt other people, either by insulting individuals or by using insulting language to disparage entire groups of people.

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