Speech, truth, and the free market for ideas

James C. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


This article examines a thesis of interest to social epistemology and some articulations of First Amendment legal theory: that a free market in speech is an optimal institution for promoting true belief. Under our interpretation, the market-for-speech thesis claims that more total truth possession will be achieved if speech is regulated only by free market mechanisms; that is, both government regulation and private sector nonmarket regulation are held to have information-fostering properties that are inferior to the free market. After discussing possible counterexamples to the thesis, the article explores the actual implications of economic theory for the emergence of truth in a free market for speech. When confusions are removed about what is maximized by perfectly competitive markets, and when adequate attention is paid to market imperfections, the failure of the market-for-speech thesis becomes clear. The article closes by comparing the properties of a free market in speech with an adversarial system of discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalLegal Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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