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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.49 n.1 Pretoria  2009


Vrye spraak, verantwoordelike spraak


Free speech, responsible speech



C S de Beer

Departement Inligtingkunde, Universiteit van Pretoria, Pretoria




In hierdie artikel word betoog dat vryheid van spraak, soos vryheid van denke en menslike vryheid in die algemeen, onlosmaaklik met mekaar verband hou en nooit oor absolute geldigheid beskik nie. Alle vryheid bly beperkte vryheid en moet met verantwoordelikheid verbind word ten einde te verhinder dat die vryheid misbruik word en baie skade aan individue en samelewings aangerig word. In 'n kultuur van regte en eise mag die belangrikheid van verantwoordelikhede en pligte nooit uit die oog verloor word nie.
Om egter die moontlikhede van vrye spraak te verstaan, asook die spanning daarvan met verantwoordelike spraak, moet verstaan word wie die mens is: toegerus met baie moontlikhede, maar met eweveel radikale gebreke. Hierdie moontlikhede en gebreke word oorgedra op alles waarmee mense te doen het - ook taal. Om vrye spraak nog beter te verstaan, moet dit ook vertolk word in die lig van die aard van taal. Taal kan skep, maar ook vernietig; taal kan as gereedskap gebruik word wat, ondanks suksesse, meesal groot beperkinge oplewer (die abstrakte dimensie van taal). Taal is egter veel meer as 'n blote gebruiksvoorwerp. Ons kan praat van die restant van taal waardeur die gebruiksmoontlikhede ver oorskry word. Taal word nie alleen deur mense gepraat nie; taal praat ook deur mense (die materiële aspek van taal). Vandaar die besondere skeppende vermoë daarvan.
Vrye spraak word van verskillende kante bedreig en moet dus beskerm word, maar dit kan self ook 'n bedreiging wees. Daarom word verantwoordelikheid vereis om met wysheid te kan praat. Verskillende riglyne kan hiermee help: waarheidsoeke, menseverhoudinge, noölogiese gedrewenheid en inspirasies, gemeenskapsvestiging, sinsoeke. Hiermee kom etiek na vore en veral "die oneindig veeleisende etiek van toewyding". Hierdie etiek vra toewyding omdat mense altyd in hul spreke kan faal; dit is 'n veeleisende etiek omdat mense maklik sê wat hulle nie wil sê nie en ewe maklik nalaat om te sê wat hulle weet hulle moet sê en selfs graag wil sê.

Trefwoorde: Vrye spraak, verantwoordelike spraak, menslike feilbaarheid, abstrakte en materiële dimensies van taal, die geweld van taal, gedagtelose geletterdheid, gedagtevolle geletterdheid, etiek van toewyding, waarheid, betekenis


Human beings want to be free and that freedom finds expression in freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of action. This is a unique and predominantly important feature of humans. Other unique features like creativity and inventiveness can only flourish at best in a milieu of freedom. Freedom in all respects should therefore be embraced, cultivated and promoted.
This ideal of freedom can, however, never be without limits nor can it be absolutised. The reason for this is to be found in the nature of the human being. Humans are not flawless. On the contrary, they are fallible, mortal and finite. These disabilities are manifested in all their actions. All the freedoms they may take are hampered and affected by this fundamental flaw. For this reason freedom can easily be abused and it happens from day to day. Although the right to free speech should enthusiastically be protected and promoted, it should at the same time, with equal vigilance, be protected against itself, against its abuse in one way or another.
Free speech is a linguistic activity and for this reason the nature of language requires attention as well for a proper appreciation of the value of free speech. Two dimensions of language, namely the abstract and material dimensions are discussed. The abstract dimension enables humans to communicate in a straightforward manner according to the rules of language, logic and clear argumentation. In this regard language can be used as a tool; it can form part of sets of skills; it can be spoken. The material dimension of language, on the contrary, is loaded with emotion, beyond human control, and cannot be used by humans. In this case humans are used by language; language speaks through us. Humans have to be sensitive and responsive to the speaking powers and forces of language.
Freedom of speech and expression is hampered by the same problem. Since humans are fallible they also transfer this fallibility to their use and abuse of language. Although free speech can be creative and capable of building human relations and individuals it can also be destructive of relations and of individuals. For this reason emphasis is laid on the relationship between language and violence with specific reference to the mortal violence to which language can lead. Language can destroy; it can kill. For this reason no free speech can ever be absolute. And for the same reason the notion of responsible speech has to be introduced and kept alert and alive. Responsibility should enable us to utilise language and be utilised by language in a constructive way. This offers the only route towards the creative and inventive usages of this very special quality with which humans are equipped.
Certain guidelines are suggested in terms of which free speech can be conducted responsibly: it must be guided by a search for truth, the promotion of sound human relations, noological inspirations must be attended to, the establishment of vital societal networks and links, the continuous search for and configuration of the optimal in meaning. Whenever these guidelines are ignored or contravened free speech will undoubtedly end up in disastrous anarchistic social and political protuberances. The difficulties human fallibility and linguistic competence pose for the free activity of speech that enables humans to engage themselves in what they do not want to say, or, to devote their attention to the neglect of precisely that which they know they should be saying, call forward the notion of "an infinitely demanding ethics of commitment". Human beings are confronted with the never-ending challenge and responsibility to build societies of freedom and peace for all.
In the positive response to such a confrontation humans are faced with this immensely difficult ethical challenge. In a culture of rights and demands where people hardly ever contemplate duties and responsibilities as part of their vocabulary, the ethical call to thoughtfulness in free speech requires attention. Thoughtlessness in free speech - a much too sensible word for the stupidity and idiocy that we find demonstrated in "free speeches", as well as "free writing" for that matter, on a daily basis - make possible disturbing titles such as "the violence of words", "words that wound", and "only words". What is required against the empty abuse of dangerous words for ideological effect, as a demonstration of the shallow and thoughtless literacy of the idiot, is a thoughtful literacy that appreciates the wealth of language that should accompany our daily "usage of letters" in full responsibility with regard to every other human being in the rich interhuman dispositions of care and respect.

Key concepts: Free speech, responsible speech, human fallibility, abstract and material dimensions of language, the violence of language, thoughtless literacy, thoughtful literacy, ethics of commitment, truth, meaning


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1 Kyk Bracken (1994) en ander wat dit op verskillende maniere en om verskillende redes wil beperk; (Mc Kinnon 1994).
2 (Kyk na Berger (1991) se behandeling hiervan, onder die invloed van J.S. Mill, wat heel insiggewend is. Insiggewend is dit om te sien hoe die mensbeeld wat gehuldig word, soos die dualisme en monisme onderskeidelik, een van die twee standpunte bevorder. (Kyk veral ook na Paragraaf 2, wat oor taal en mens handel).
3 Vergelyk die bespreking van die genesende en vergiftigende moontlikhede van die farmaka soos Derrida (1981:61-171) en Stiegler (2008:65-69) dit bespreek.



Prof C S de Beer is Emeritus Professor van die Departement Inligtingkunde, Universiteit van Suid-Afrika en is tans Buitengewone Professor in Inligtingkunde aan die Universiteit van Pretoria. Hy het gegradueer in Landbou en Wysbegeerte aan die Universiteite van Pretoria en Parys X. Nanterre, Frankryk. Hy het Inligtingkunde, Kommunikasiekunde en Wysbegeerte doseer, navorsing op al hierdie gebiede en verwante subgebiede onderneem, konsultasiewerk gedoen oor kennisbenutting en inligtingverspreiding. Onder sy publikasies tot op datum tel 6 boeke (as outeur), 5 boeke (as redakteur), 75 wetenskaplike artikels en verskeie navorsingsverslae. Hy doen tans ekstensief navorsing oor die Filosofie van Inligting in die wydste moontlike sin van die woord, met besondere klem op die individuele en sosiale implikasies daarvan en hy het 'n beperkte doseeropdrag in Inligtingkunde.

Prof C S de Beer is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Information Science, University of South Africa and is currently Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria. He graduated in Agriculture and Philosophy at the Universities of Pretoria and Paris X. Nanterre, France. He taught Information Science, Communications, and Philosophy, undertook research in all these disciplines and related sub-disciplines, and was involved in consultation work in the area of knowledge utilisation and information dissemination. To date he has published 6 books (as author), 5 books (as editor), 75 scientific articles, and a number of research reports. He is currently engaged in research of the Philosophy of Information in the widest possible sense of the word, with specific attention to its individual and social implications and he has a limited lecturing responsibility in Information Science.

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