This project is examining the mechanisms of Speech harm by focusing on silence. Using experimental methodology from cognitive sciences, together with my collaborators, we seek to provide empirical evidence about the bystanders-silent-response effect in Hate Speech incidences. We explore whether an omission to act might cause more significant harm to victims and society.
Our proposal takes distance from others, mostly committed to stiffer criminal sanctions as a proper response to those discriminatory and derogatory discourses. Instead, we want to outstand social involvement in counter-speech as a reliable and crucial alternative in reducing their harmful impact. Our approach is clearly interdisciplinary, combining in our analysis a legal and a philosophical perspective.
Philosophers of Language like Langton (2007; 2015; 2018a; 2018b), Ayala and Vasilyeva (2016), Maitra (2004; 2012), McGowan (2004; 2019), to name only a few, have identified some possible ways in which harm takes place in the course of a conversation: When we accommodate morally problematic presuppositions, such as those which discriminate, stigmatize, denigrate or silencing a social collective, undermining their dignity (McGowan, 2004; Ayala and Vasilyeva, 2016), or when we outsource practical authority to the speaker who performs a harmful discourse (Maitra, 2012; Langton, 2018). Langton calls Blocking Acts those actions that interpose an obstruction to the accomplishment of speech-harm by retroactively depriving it of certain hearer-based felicity conditions (2018). Ayala and Vasilyeva (2016) underline the importance of blocking morally problematic presuppositions (sexist, ableist, racist, homo-, trans-or xeno-phobic ones) without letting them accommodate within the conversation. To remain silent would place us, in Austinian terms, before an omission of doing something needed with our words, for which we would be potentially responsible.
However, do we intuitively side with those theories? How do ordinary citizens interpret a silent response to Hate Speech? Do we blame or find them morally responsible for that omission? Our project aims to answer these questions.