Why no-platforming is sometimes a justifiable position

By Neil Levy – The discussion over no-platforming is often presented as a debate between proponents of free speech, who think that the only appropriate response to bad speech is more speech, and those who think that speech can be harmful. I think this way of framing the debate is only half-right. Advocates of open speech emphasize evidence, but they overlook the ways in which the provision of a platform itself provides evidence.

No-platforming is when a person is prevented from contributing to a public debate, either through policy or protest, on the grounds that their beliefs are dangerous or unacceptable.

Open-speech advocates highlight what we might call first-order evidence: evidence for and against the arguments that the speakers make. But they overlook higher-order evidence.

Higher-order evidence is evidence about how beliefs were formed. We often moderate our confidence in our beliefs in the light of higher-order evidence. For instance, you might find the arguments in favor

of booking plane tickets to Las Vegas right now compelling, but hesitate in light of the fact that you’re really drunk. The fact that you’re drunk is higher-order evidence: it’s evidence that you might not be processing first-order evidence well. Maybe the case for going to Las Vegas won’t seem quite so compelling in the morning.

An invitation to speak at a university campus, a prestigious event or to write an opinion piece for a newspaper provides (prima facie) higher-order evidence. It is evidence that the speaker is credible; that she has an opinion deserving a respectful hearing. It typically certifies expertise, and expertise is higher-order evidence that the person’s opinion should be given particular weight.

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Epistemologists have pointed out that we can sometimes hold fast to our beliefs in the face of disagreement, because the best explanation of why she disagrees with me is that she isn’t competent about this matter, or she’s joking, or trolling me. An invitation to speak at a credible venue is evidence that the person is competent, and is sincere. It therefore provides weighty higher-order evidence. more>

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