Political correctness: a threat to free speech or a tool to achieve equality? : an examination of whether political correctness is a justified restriction to freedom of speech or not

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Papastefanaki, Charoula
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Political correctness is a prevalent phenomenon of the past decades that has sparked multiple controversies, as it aims to the advancement of equality of discriminated groups through restrictions of offensive speech, that are often seen as extremely extensive. This thesis aims to contribute to this heated debate with an analytical evaluation and a human-rights conceptual framework of political correctness. It does so by following a multidisciplinary approach, offering a mainly philosophical-moral analysis combined with legal perspectives and empirical data. Focusing on offence as a central notion of political correctness, it analyses the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights under certain characteristics of offence that challenge its protection, like its subjective nature and the disregard of the intention behind it. Then, by critically analysing two moral theories, by Jeffrey H. Howard and Lars Binderup, it illustrates the diametrically opposite opinions that exist around the justifiability of restricting speech to advance equality and non-discrimination in a democracy and it points out an important division between the protection from offensive speech based on inherently discriminatory opinions and on certain beliefs and values that inevitably vary in multicultural societies. Lastly, it examines the effectiveness of political correctness and it presents empirical data and arguments in favour of the dynamic role language has in social change as well as counter-arguments that are claimed to be relevant to the debate, yet not challenging the idea of that dynamic role and thus of the effective results political correctness can have. In conclusion and based on the above, it presents certain criteria under which political correctness could be considered a justified restriction to freedom of speech.
Second semester University: KU Leuven
freedom of speech, equality, discrimination, intercultural communication, social change, multiculturalism, chensorship, moral and ethical aspects, hate speech