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Julie Seaman, Emory Law

Monday, February 8, 2016

5:15 - 6:15 pm


Who Wins in the Marketplace of Ideas: Truth, Democracy, and Evolutionary Theory

It is a bedrock principle of First Amendment law that the constitution protects freedom of speech to allow all voices to be heard so that truth will, in the end, triumph over falsehood.  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it in a famous dissent 1919: “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” According to this theory, people use their reasoning capacities to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good ideas from the bad.  And yet, as a quick scan of the front pages will attest, very many people are willing to believe assertions that are obviously false, even in the face of easily available accurate information.  In response, many legal scholars and democratic theorists have abandoned truth justifications in favor of process-based accounts. 


But what if the human capacity for reason evolved not to help us find the truth but rather to help us win arguments?  In recent groundbreaking work, evolutionary psychologists Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier have proposed exactly that: Their “Argumentative Theory of Reasoning” predicts and explains many of the cognitive biases and irrationalities long observed across many fields of academic study.  This presentation will explore some of the intriguing, if somewhat counterintuitive, implications of an argumentative theory of reason for First Amendment law.  


About the speaker

Julie Seaman is on the faculty at Emory Law School in Atlanta, Georgia, where she teaches courses on evidence, constitutional law, and freedom of speech. Associate Professor Seaman takes an interdisciplinary approach to legal scholarship, considering the implications of findings in brain science, social science, evolutionary science, and cognitive psychology to various legal questions.  Her recent work has focused on neuroscience based lie detection techniques, regulation of hate speech, and the marketplace of ideas justification for freedom of speech. She is also a longtime board member and current board President of the Georgia Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that works to free wrongfully convicted individuals using DNA evidence. Associate Professor Seaman holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.


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Last Updated: 12/4/20