116 | Teresa Bejan on Free Speech, Civility, and Toleration


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How can, and should, we talk to each other, especially to people with whom we disagree? “Free speech” is rightfully entrenched as an important value in liberal democratic societies, but implementing it consistently and fairly is a tricky business. Political theorist Teresa Bejan comes to this question from a philosophical and historical perspective, managing to relate broad principles to modern hot-button issues. We talk about the importance of tolerating disreputable beliefs, the senses in which speech acts can be harmful, and how “civility” places demands on listeners as well as speakers.

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Teresa Bejan received an M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History from Cambridge and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale. She is currently Associate Professor of Political Theory and Fellow of Oriel College at the University of Oxford. Among her awards are the American Political Science Association’s Leo Strauss Award for the best dissertation in political philosophy and the inaugural Early Career Prize for the greatest overall contribution to research and teaching in political thought from the Britain & Ireland Association for Political Thought. Her book Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration considers political speech through the lens of early modern debates about religious liberty.

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