Defining 'speech': Subtraction, addition, and division

Robert Mark Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In free speech theory ‘speech’ has to be defined as a special term of art. I argue that much free speech discourse comes with a tacit commitment to a ‘Subtractive Approach’ to defining speech. As an initial default, all communicative acts are assumed to qualify as speech, before exceptions are made to ‘subtract’ those acts that don’t warrant the special legal protections owed to ‘speech’. I examine how different versions of the Subtractive Approach operate, and criticize them in terms of their ability to yield a substantive definition of speech which covers all and only those forms of communicative action that—so our arguments for free speech indicate—really do merit special legal protection. In exploring alternative definitional approaches, I argue that what ultimately compromises definitional adequacy in this arena is a theoretical commitment to the significance of a single unified class of privileged communicative acts. I then propose an approach to free speech theory that eschews this theoretical commitment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-494
Number of pages38
JournalCanadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016

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