Things Voltaire Didn’t Say

On the importance of free speech

Crossposted from Promethea

First off, I learned (just a few weeks ago) that this quote is misattributed to Voltaire. The famous quote was written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

I couldn’t agree more with the quote. Think of an opinion you once held that seemed to be obviously true, even self-evident. Years later, this opinion changed.

This has likely happened to all of us. It’s happened to me many times.

It’s quite important to remember that, in many cases, people only believe what they want to believe. Confirmation biases cause us to be more likely to accept data that conforms to our views.

In light of this, how can anyone presume to ‘know’ with absolute certainty that they are ‘right’? It’s irresponsible to put opinions into one of two categories:

  1. Those with which I agree
  2. Satan
Too often, we are told that free speech is important, before given a list of things we can not say

This is one of the few shared traits of nearly all political ideologies. Especially with the regressive left, opinions that they deem offensive are labeled ‘off limits’. Any sensible person will agree that this is counterproductive — Sweeping the problem under the rug, as it were. How can we solve problems by ignoring them, especially when this causes the other side to be resentful? Being offended should not carry as much weight as it currently does. It doesn’t really mean anything, does it?

This, Voltaire actually said

To sum it up, let’s look at Voltaire’s last moments on this earth. As he lay dying, a priest urged him to renounce Satan. Voltaire, an atheist, replied, “Now is not the time for making new enemies.” While I do not think such a noncommittal attitude is wise when it comes to ethics, we should remember these words before adamantly decrying “evil” opposing views. Rational discussion is the only way to reconcile opposing viewpoints.

Yes, our right to free speech should be defended to the death.