What are the Limits on Free Speech? The 2023 Annual Symposium
Mary Leng (University of York), Rae Langton (Cambridge University), Arif Ahmed (Cambridge University)

November 9, 2023, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
The Royal Institute of Philosophy

Exact location TBC
Kings Cross
United Kingdom


Where should we draw the line between hate speech and simply saying things other people don’t want to hear? When some social groups can access media much more easily than others, has the idea of free speech as a free contest of ideas had its day? Should governments intervene to restrict the right to express opinions – for example, on climate change, or vaccination, which are obviously untrue? Obviously according to whom? These are among the urgent questions to be addressed by our panel of four distinguished philosophers, chaired by the radio and TV presenter, Ritula Shah.

  • The panel

    Ritula Shah (chair) is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. She is the presenter of ‘Calm Classics’ every weekday evening on ClassicFM. Ritula left the BBC in April 2023, after a career spanning almost 35 years. For the past 15 years, she was the main presenter of the World Tonight, Radio 4’s evening news programme, which has a focus on international affairs and domestic politics. She presented the programme from countries including Brazil, Jordan, India, China, the US, Guantanamo Bay, Finland and Germany. She was also the lead presenter of The Real Story, a weekly discussion programme on the BBC World Service. Ritula chairs events for businesses, universities and think tanks on everything from current affairs to philosophy. She is a trustee of the visual arts organisation INIVA and an ambassador for the British Asian Trust.

    Rae Langton is Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. She works in moral and political philosophy, the history of philosophy, metaphysics, speech act theory, and feminist philosophy. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013, and the British Academy in 2014. Her work on free speech and silencing was cited in Prospect Magazine’s voted list of 50 ‘World Thinkers 2014’, chosen for ‘engaging most originally and profoundly with the central questions of the world today’.

    Mary Leng is Professor of Philosophy at the University of York. Her main research area is in the philosophy of mathematics and science where she defends mathematical fictionalism (arguing that 2 + 2 does not equal 4). She has also written in defence of religious fictionalism (arguing that the Pope isn't Catholic) and against moral fictionalism (holding that murder really is wrong). She has also contributed to recent discussions of sex and gender identity in the context of proposed legal reforms in the UK.

    Sarah Conly is the author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and One Child: Do We Have a Right to More? (Oxford University Press, 2016.)

    Arif Ahmed has been Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge since October 2022 and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius since 2015. His philosophical outlook is empiricist and his work applies this approach to questions in metaphysics, the theory of rational choice and philosophy of religion. He has campaigned for many years in defence of free speech and academic freedom. In recognition of this work he was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2021 and the Trustees' Award by Index on Censorship.

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November 9, 2023, 5:00pm BST

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