Book Review: Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law, by Seana Shiffrin

AuthorJiewuh Song
Date01 October 2020
Published date01 October 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 649
The questions this book raises do not diminish its importance but rather
make it that much more relevant to contemporary scholarly debate. Moreover,
its insightful methodology—which proposes a multidimensional analysis of
space-time that radically contests dominant histories and historiographical
trends—has much to contribute to some of the most important and pressing
discussions in political theory. Above all, Insurgent Universality demon-
strates how an alternative map of the modern world—which gives pride of
place to the recurrent, transnational uprisings against capitalism—can help
orient our present and future struggles. Where some only see the smoldering
embers of past and distant conflagrations of class struggle, Tomba reveals
how these very embers continue to feed the fires of insurgency.
1. Michael Parenti, Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism & the Overthrow of
Communism (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997), 54.
Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law, by Seana Shiffrin. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2014, 248 pp.
Reviewed by: Jiewuh Song, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
DOI: 10.1177/0090591720923600
In Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law, Seana Shiffrin presents
an exciting account of communicative ethics that bridges free speech theory
and the morality of sincerity. In Shiffrin’s view, the demand for vigilant free
speech protections and the prohibition of lying have a common root. Both are
vital to moral agency and community. For, Shiffrin argues, healthy moral
relations among rational agents are possible only when freedom of speech is
widely guaranteed and communicative sincerity is reliably preserved.
The argument begins with a set of claims about moral agency. Moral
agency in this view “is a cooperative matter that depends on reliable channels
of communication . . . for its development and realization” (2). These tasks
require apprehending and interpreting a wide range of social and material
information. But because of our common limitations, we can successfully
attain such information only through “mutual epistemic dependence” (9). We
are dependent on each other, for example, for understanding what morality
requires of us in our complex social world, as well as for full self-development

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