Free Speech

Course summary

Free Speech


In this day school we will be examining Free Speech. We shall start by examining the development of the idea of Free Speech starting in the fifth century BC and including ancient Greece, India, Persia, medieval Arabic-speaking countries and medieval Christianity. We shall then consider some of the difficulties inherent in Free Speech. We will consider the USA’s legal requirement on Free Speech, which allows few boundaries, and also John Stuart Mill’s emphasis on the benefits of Free Speech, as opposed to our right to it. We’ll examine the question of what happens when someone exercises their right when that frustrates the benefits of Free Speech, by closing down discussion and understanding. Should lovers of Free Speech voluntarily refrain from indulging their right, or encouraging others to do so, in such cases? Finally we shall look at the difficulties of framing legal boundaries to free speech. Should abuse of religion, class, or race be legally outlawed, if intended to cause offence, or if likely to do so? Did the Brexit campaign uncover further legal difficulties? For example did the law permit too much speech hostile to foreigners, or allow too much mendacity? How should we deal with lies in the newspapers, or abuse on the internet? There will be plenty of opportunity to socialise with other participants and with the speaker.

Programme details



9.30am         Course Registration

9.45am         Freedom of Speech for all in East and West: its slow discovery in the West

11.15am       Coffee/tea

11.45am       Freedom of Speech and Opening Ears: two overlapping projects that can diverge

1.15pm         Bar Open

1.30pm         Lunch         

2.30pm         Difficulties of framing legal boundaries to Free Speech

4.00pm         Tea/coffee

4.30pm         Course disperses

Recommended reading



There will be three handouts, with a list of thinkers and dates, and with quotations from different times and cultures from the 5th century BC to the 20th AD.


The fullest, most recent book, giving an up to date Western point of view is Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech, Atlantic Books, London, 2016.




Accommodation is not included in the price, but depending on availability it may be possible to stay at Rewley House on Friday and / or Saturday night.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email  for details of availability and prices.


Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.




Alumni 10% Discount: £0.00
Friends of RH 10% Discount: £0.00
Phil.soc Members 10% Discount: £0.00
Summer school 10% discount: £0.00
Tuition (includes coffee/tea): £66.50


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses



Professor Sir Richard Sorabji


Professor Sir Richard Sorabji is an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is editor of over 100 translations of Philosophy in the Aristotelian tradition, with the aid of 300 collaborators in 20 countries. He is author of two biographies, three books on theories, starting in antiquity, of the physical universe, and eight on theories of mind, ethics and society. Recent books since 2006 have increasingly looked at different cultures as well as different ages: Opening Doors: The Untold Story of Cornelia Sorabji, Reformer, Lawyer and Champion of Women’s Rights in India (requested for TV filming);  Gandhi and the Stoics: Modern Experiments on Ancient Values; Moral Conscience through the Ages: Fifth Century BCE to the Present, and a co-edited book, The Ethics of War: Shared Problems in Different Traditions. Richard was knighted in 2014 for services to philosophical scholarship.

Ms Marianne Talbot

Director of Studies


Marianne Talbot took her first degree at London University, then her B.Phil at Oxford (Corpus Christi College). She has taught for the colleges of Oxford University for 30 years (1987 – 1990 at Pembroke College, 1991 – 2000 at Brasenose College). She has been Director of Studies in Philosophy at OUDCE since 2001. She is the author of Bioethics: An Introduction, and Critical Reasoning: A Romp Through the Foothills of Logic. Marianne’s podcasts have been hugely popular. Two of them have been global number one on iTunesU. One of these (The Nature of Arguments) has been downloaded 7 million times.