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Protective Falsehoods

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Thursday, November 2, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Hate speech is capable of inflicting severe harms on members of vulnerable groups. Can disseminating falsehoods ever help mitigate these harms? And, supposing it can, is it ever permissible to deploy such “protective” falsehoods? I aim to answer both questions in the affirmative, and therefore conclude that—under a specific set of non-ideal contexts—falsehoods have a valuable and permissible role to play within counterspeech. My argument proceeds as follows. I begin by outlining some of the most significant harms associated with hate speech. Next, I argue that falsehoods, and “non-transparent” falsehoods in particular, can help alleviate these harms in at least two ways: first, by making hate less visible or apparent to its targets; and second, by making targets’ own vulnerability less salient to them. Finally, I assess a number of objections to protective falsehoods. One set of objections suggests that protective falsehoods are not needed to counteract the harms of hate speech. Another contends that, even if they are needed, they come at an excessive moral cost—in part because they are likely expose targets to substantial risks of harm; and in part because they seem objectionably paternalistic. While neither worry is decisive, both help highlight the ways in which the permissibility of protective falsehoods depends on the nature of the falsehood in question, the context in which it is deployed, and, finally, who deploys it.

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This event is organized in collaboration with Dr. Fabio Wolkenstein (University of Vienna)