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The Hateful and the Obscene

Studies in the Limits of Free Expression

by Leonard W. Sumner

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political, civil rights, ethics & moral philosophy
list price: $39.95
also available: eBook Hardcover
category: Philosophy
published: 2004
  • Winner, CB MacPherson Prize
  • Winner, The Donner Prize
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In a series of landmark decisions since 1990, Canadian courts have shaped a distinctive approach to the regulation of obscenity, hate literature, and child pornography. Missing from the debate, however, has been any attempt to determine whether the legal status quo can be justified by reference to a framework of moral/political principles. The Hateful and the Obscene is intended to fill that gap.


L.W. Sumner brings philosophical depth and theoretical rigour to some of the most important and difficult questions concerning free expression. Building on a framework set out by J.S. Mill – that a legal restriction of expression is justified only when the expression in question is harmful to others and when the benefits of the restriction will exceed its costs – Sumner shows how the Canadian courts have replicated Mill's framework in their interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


The Hateful and the Obscene is a compelling interpretation of freedom of expression that combines serious philosophical thought with a focus on Canadian law, thus maintaining the breadth to deal with both obscenity and hate literature.

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About the Author

Leonard W. Sumner

Leonard W. Sumner is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

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