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My question comes with respect to the recent event concerning the Huck Finn omission. Do people have a right to be offended? and in this particular case by racist, hateful slurs? For example Ayn Rand challenged people who made lesser remarks about Jews, since she was a Jew.

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asked Jan 06 '11 at 22:37

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Jan 07 '11 at 00:28

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Does the questioner mean to ask if people have the right to not be offended? The right to be offended seems like a strange concept.

(Jan 07 '11 at 10:00) Chris McKenzie ♦ Chris%20McKenzie's gravatar image

no I mean the right to be offended

(Jan 07 '11 at 17:45) Fareed Fareed's gravatar image

This particular question has 2 different meanings depending on how you read it. 1. Do people have a RIGHT to be offended? and 2. Do people have a right to BE OFFENDED? The first is how I originally read it. Meaning, "Am I entitled to have people offend me with racial slurs?" The latter meaning, "Do I have good reason to be offended by racial slurs?" That's how I interpret the question.

(Jan 07 '11 at 18:16) Vince Martinez Vince%20Martinez's gravatar image

yes that was my intention however unclear I made it. do you have a RIGHT or are you entitled to be offended by racial slurs?

(Jan 07 '11 at 21:42) Fareed Fareed's gravatar image
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Consider an armed robbery. The criminal offends the victim. As Chris hinted above, it makes no sense to consider a victim's right to be offended; the right is liberty from offense.

Where no one initiates force, one has the right to take offense: "to feel, or assume to be, injured or affronted; to become angry or hostile". Of course the right to take offense does not extend to the initiation of force. Note that taking offense could indicate either poorly trained emotions or a wicked nature. For example, taking offense with Twain's word choice in "Huck Finn" while embracing Shakur's "A Crooked Nigga Too" might announce an underlying racism.

I have not followed the recent Twain discussions. If the concern is with editing a book for a government school or library, note that the primary issue is the existence of these institutions.

answered Jan 08 '11 at 15:16

sector7agent's gravatar image

sector7agent ♦

Yes, in a freedom of speech society such as that advocated in objectivism, one has the right to offend and to be offended by the ideas, statements, and beliefs of others. In response to that offense, one has the right to respond, to refuse to provide sustenance to the offender (i.e, do not purchase or donate to that person's endeavors), or to ignore the offender. Our Constitution in the US and similar government limitations in a number of other nations prevents the government from limiting speech that is offensive. Speech advocating violence is another issue altogether. Advocating violence goes beyond offending others' sensibilities and as such should not be allowed in a free society,

answered Jan 08 '11 at 08:00

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ethwc ♦

If I read this right, the question is a groping around for a vindication of one of Voltaire's famous statements:

I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

From the pespective of the offended then, it would be like someone who is offended in any one concrete instance being principled enough to defend the rights of the very person they find hateful and who may even have intended to be hateful (contrast Huck Finn vs flat-out racist literature that doesn't actually call for violence). One can and should as per Voltaire, defend both the rights of the offender to do so and the rights of his audience to listen to or read the works of that offender, because it is an issue of principle and that the rights involved are all liberty and property rights, not just free-speech. Rand wrote silimiarly in defence of the rights of pornographers at the same time as condemning the internal content of their wares.

So, YES, one DOES have the right to be offended - if by that it is meant the right to trade with those whom one finds offensive in wares that are the immediate source of that offensiveness. Subject to copyright of course, one has the RIGHT in whatever manner to obtain a copy of or otherwise be audience to something that even by one's own standards is wall-to-wall outrageously offensive. As part of that right, others are wrong to interfere even if they too are offended or act on behalf of the offended, including Nanny-Statists trying to act in loco parentis over you. Furthermore, even though the principle of liberty as an integrated whole is sufficient for the above and there is no political necessity for the following observation, note that there are even rational reasons for doing so, such as for academic reference (eg if someone found Dostoevsky distasteful but perservered for a writer's interest in the techniques of novel-writing) or cultural understanding (eg reading the Bible or Koran or some other egregious religious text to comprehend how people in culture X will view something or how they might react).

In application to Huck Finn, this means that everyone has the RIGHT to buy a copy of that book in the form just as Twain intended, that anyone (since it is out of copyright) who sees benefit in doing so has he RIGHT to publish a version of Huck Finn (or host an e-book copy or make a movie or whatever) that includes the word nigger in Twain's intended manner, and that the right thinking will defend these rights even if they themselves are offended by that word (or any other).


answered Jan 08 '11 at 17:55

JJMcVey's gravatar image

JJMcVey ♦

edited Jan 08 '11 at 18:51

A right-at-home example for us is that I can easily imagine that Dr Hsieh could (if she hasn't already done so!) get her own copy of "The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" by John Knox. It's a real jackpot of offensiveness for an Objectivist woman philosopher (religious fundamentalism, total statism, and misogyny), yet she has the right to get a copy and it may be rational for her to do so for professional reasons. I could then imagine Dr Hsieh defending herself against feminist harpies and others for daring to have a copy and rejecting calls for a ban.

(Jan 08 '11 at 20:10) JJMcVey ♦ JJMcVey's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 06 '11 at 22:37

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Last updated: Jan 27 '11 at 17:30