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Examine an ethical issue in a policy and ethics course (such as privacy, speech, social justice, or surveillance) from the perspective of an ethical framework (i.e. deontological, consequentialist, etc.).

The issue of free speech could be examined from the perspective of consequentialism. Such an approach looks at particular forms of free speech and tries to determine whether the harms outweigh the benefits. If the harms do indeed outweigh the benefits, then a consequentialist argument for constraining free speech can be made.

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In relation to free speech, consequentialism isn't concerned with whatever intrinsic value it may have. It looks to the consequences of free speech and what effects it may have on people. Most forms of free speech are fairly uncontroversial, but there are some forms that are a good deal more contentious.

Take hate speech, for example. A long-standing debate has raged over the years among philosophers, jurists, and politicians alike concerning the status of hate speech in American society. Is it, as some have argued, protected by the First Amendment? Or is it something that falls outside constitutional protection and therefore something that can legitimately be curtailed?

In dealing with this question, consequentialists would look to the harm done by hate speech. Some of them have argued that if hate speech causes harm analogous to those harms caused by conduct, then a case can be made for curtailing its expression. Hate speech can, in certain circumstances, generate considerable fear among those on the receiving end. On consequentialist grounds, such speech can be curtailed. It doesn't just adversely affect the victim; it also affects society as a whole and undermines its stability.

A consequentialist argument against hate speech can also be used to restrict the production of, and access to, pornography. Activists against pornography—which they regard as a form of hate speech—have argued that it helps to create an environment in which physical harm towards women is normalized. It is further argued that in transmitting an idea about the subjugation of women, pornography can cause mental harm to those who see it.

In all cases, consequentialists are trying to find an appropriate balance between the harms and benefits of the exercise of free speech. In doing so, they may well draw upon a very expansive notion of what is considered harmful to take into account a greater range of harms, both physical and mental.

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