Experiments in Living, Commercial Entertainment, and Free Speech

Wednesday, 24 November 2021, 16:00-18:00

Senate House, Room G35


The ideal of “experiments in living” is an important part of the liberal tradition, in practice, but it is a somewhat neglected ideal in contemporary theories of liberalism. What are experiments in living, exactly? And how is a positive stance towards experiments in living distinct from an ideal of individual autonomy? In the first part of this talk I’ll outline answers to these two questions. In the second part of the talk I’ll explain how commercial entertainment — such as cinema, pop music, and novels — can play an important role in facilitating experiments in living. The idea, roughly, is that these things provide an easy mode of access to a wide variety of “experimental hypotheses”. In the third part of the talk I’ll discuss the implications of the above for theories of free speech. I will argue that the prominent justificatory theories of free speech don’t do a good job at explaining why commercial entertainment should receive the level of attention and protection that most defenders of free speech want to accord to it. I will suggest that the way to remedy this problem is to recognise an ideal of “experiments in living” as a more significant element in a justificatory theory of free speech.


Please note that upcoming LAF sessions will be held in person, and will become available on our LAF Podcast. We request that attendees observe safety guidelines, unless exempt; please see the Covid-19 advice by Senate House and Senate House Library.