Pythagoras, it is said, urged his followers to abstain from beans. Apparently, the Pythagoreans, along with the Orphics, thought that beans are "ensouled" as part of the cosmic drama of reincarnation. Pythagoras is said to have conducted experiments revealing that masticated bean matter left out in the sun starts to smell like semen and that a bean blossom buried for ninety days takes the form of a child's head or a woman's vagina. One Orphic verse informs us, "Eating beans and eating the heads of one's parents amounts to the same thing," and Aristotle attributes to the Pythagoreans the view that the bean, the only plant "without joints," resembles "the mouth of Hades" through which souls ascend back to life on earth.
Those who would have us tolerate or even sometimes celebrate extreme speech that insults, offends, blasphemes, or denigrates commitments of religion or conscience - what I will call sacrilegious speech - often argue that such speech can make valuable contributions to public discourse. In its best-known, Millian, consequentialist form, this defence supposes that we all have an interest in a free and fierce exchange of ideas because this is the best means of arriving at knowledge of the true, the right, or good, and such knowledge tends to contribute to our individual and collective flourishing. Liberty conduces to knowledge. Knowledge conduces to human well-being. Hence, liberty - including conversational liberty - is "the only unfailing and permanent source of improvement" to the human lot.
This defence of sacrilegious speech faces an "Objection from Incivility." The Objection from Incivility holds that constructive public conversation in a democracy - especially one that embraces ethnic and religious sub-communities that are alienated from one another - can only proceed when certain norms of civility are observed. These norms of civility, properly understood, ground a prima facie moral reason for citizens to refrain from speech that causes serious affront to the conscience of others. Tariq Ramadan has put it clearly if a touch too starkly:
There are no legal limits to free speech, but there are civic limits. In any society, there is a civic understanding that free speech should be used wisely so not as to provoke sensitivities, particularly in hybrid, multicultural societies we see in the world today. It is a matter of civic responsibility and wisdom, not a question of legality or rights.
The Objection from Incivility is attractive in part because it can proceed within the assumptions of a Millian framework. Even if we assume that the moral goods yielded by public debate provide reason to promote speech, these goods are not to be expected from speech that is extreme enough to undermine the possibility of cetonstructive dialogue. Thus, even the Millian can morally vindicate sacrilegious speech only to the extent that it does not breach the bounds of civility.
The Objection from Incivility can also be brought against versions of the free speech defence of a more rights-based, principle-based, or Neo-Kantian cast. Such defences would make free participation in public discourse a condition of the legitimacy of the state. State power is legitimate to the extent that it respects the autonomy of citizens by approximating the condition of self-government. Not every action of the state can enjoy the endorsement of every citizen. The best the state can do is maximize the freedom of citizens to participate in the processes of public deliberation that will influence its actions. That implies refraining as much as possible from interfering in public discourse with content-based regulations that prevent certain viewpoints from being heard.
Here the objection would state, somewhat more controversially, that in order for one's contributions to public discourse to be autonomy-preserving, they must be of a kind that are recognized by others as contributions to deliberation. To the extent that contributions transgress the rules of civility, they will be regarded by others as falling outside of the practice of deliberation. The sacrilegious speaker is heard, but not heard as making a contribution to public conversation. Thus, the sacrilegious speaker's viewpoint is not reflected in the deliberative processes that will influence governmental action.
Consider the conversation that takes place in the direct democratic forum of a community meeting. When a community gathers to discuss matters of local governance, they meet on the assumption that all are equals and that each will express him or herself honestly and freely on these matters. "The basic principle is that freedom of speech shall be unabridged. And yet the meeting cannot even be opened unless, by common consent, speech is abridged."
Paradoxically, the freedom of each participant to make meaningful contributions to a constructive conversation-is made possible by "rules of order" that constrain speech, as John Meiklejohn has observed: debaters must confine their remarks to the "questions before the house." If one man "has the floor," no one else may interrupt him except as provided by the rules. . . . If a speaker wanders from the point at issue, if he is abusive or in other ways threatens to defeat the purpose of the meeting, he may be and should be declared "out of order." . . . And if he persists in breaking the rules, he may be "denied the floor" or, in the last resort "thrown out" of the meeting. . . . The town meeting, as it seeks for freedom of public discussion of public problems, would be wholly ineffectual unless speech were thus abridged. . . . It is not a dialectical free-for-all. It is self-government.
In a democratic society, it could be argued, conversation on matters of public concern must be governed by similar speech-abridging rules of civility. By conforming their public expressions to civility rules, citizens make possible constructive dialogue and thereby contribute to the practices of democratic self-governance. There is no conversation over roast sacred cows. How does this argument fare with sacred beans?
One problem with the Objection from Incivility is that the norms of civility brought to bear on sacrilege are not purely procedural. While the rules of order of a community meeting, such as "don't interrupt one who has the floor," may be relatively uncontested, any deliberative body deliberating on interesting issues for an interestingly diverse population will have to make some substantive assumptions about what counts as a reasonable contribution, what counts as gratuitously abusive expression, and which parties deserve civil treatment. Is an opening prayer a helpful contribution? Is satire always uncivil? Should uncivil people be treated with civility? These assumptions will vary depending on one's cultural practices, moral orientation, and metaphysical outlook.
To see this, imagine a band of neo-Pythagoreans bent on reviving a reverence for beans in contemporary times. Seen through the revivalists' vision of the sacred, mainstream society would cry out for radical reform. Cans of soup in supermarkets would be like row upon row of violent pornography in full view of children, Indian cookbooks would read like blueprints for moral degradation. The neo-Pythagoreans would disrupt chili contests in Texas and call for economic sanctions against the mangiafaglioni of Tuscany, all by appealing to an outrage against their spiritual sensibilities.
I will leave to others to decide whether the sacred beliefs of the familiar world faiths make more sense than those of the fictional neo-Pythagoreans. I need not commit myself on this point. The point is rather that the neo-Pythagoreans could claim that you and I are obstructing civil dialogue by refusing to redact our soup recipes and persisting in our omnivorous ways. When they assert that our actions are not merely ignorant or false but uncivil, theycould be claiming that we have violated a procedural rule of conversation by making contributions that are grossly unreasonable or gratuitously insulting. They might conclude that we are beyond the pale of conversation altogether, undeserving of civil treatment because we are collaborators in a genocide of souls.
If you and I have no sympathy for these suggestions, it is probably because we are not convinced that eating a bean is the same thing as eating the heads of one's parents. Even if the reverence for living things and their origins could in some form be appreciated, the neo-Pythagorean cult's bizarre investment of this reverence in the token of the bean would be morally unintelligible to most of us. In short, we would think the neo-Pythagoreans are misguided, and therefore we would disagree with them about whether we are being uncivil towards them, and perhaps even about whether they deserve to be treated with civility. We would not simply accept their norms of civility because our disagreement cuts across even those norms.
I am not so bold as to attempt to deduce some universal norms of civility to which every rational being must assent. But if I did, I would be making a contribution to public discourse that could be contested by someone else. That contestation would be a sign that we share a democratic way of life. When one makes assertions about what is and what is not civil, these assertions do not stand outside of the public contests over the good and the sacred, adjudicating them like impartial referees. They are moves within the contests. The disputes cannot be settled by asserting that the blasphemer has a civic duty to defer to the attitudes of the believer, for the dispute would then come to include the question of whether civic duty demands such deference. In this case, the dispute would turn on whether the bean-desecrators are being gratuitously offensive to the bean-venerators.
Surely there are some incontestable (or relatively significantly less contestable) procedural rules, presuppositions without which an interaction between persons would not be discourse, "communicative action," or conversation at all. By entering into conversation, persons presuppose at least provisionally that they are talking about a common subject matter; that each is relevantly equal in that each is entitled to speak on the matter; that each is capable of offering and being motivated by reasons; that each aims at motivating the other with reasons rather than coercion or manipulation. When we adopt the "conversational stance" with someone, constraints such as these are not optional.They are constitutive of the stance.
Of course, we may not always have most reason to adopt the conversational stance with someone. We may have most reason to confound or confine him, or to run away. The rules of chess are presupposed by those who are playing chess, but they cannot tell us that we must play chess. Yet if we are committed to granting equal moral standing to all persons, extending them equal respect, then we do have a powerful reason to extend the conversational stance as widely as possible, for there is no better way to respect their autonomy, recognize their identities, and give consideration to their interests than to talk to them. However, the conversational stance alone does not determine whether and when we may shock or offend our interlocutors, nor when we have most reason to forsake the conversational stance for some other kind of expressive action. Thus, it leaves open plenty of space for sacrilegious expression, and for dispute about whether sacrilegious expression is inherently uncivil.
The Objection from Incivility faces a dilemma. When it is less than persuasive to us, for instance in the case of the sacred bean, it seems that the invocation of "civility" is inadequate to resolve more substantive disagreements about the propriety of an expression. When the Objection from Incivility is persuasive to us, it will be persuasive at least in part because it concerns a sacred practice that already enjoys some substantive favorable judgment on our part-it is at least not wholly unintelligible, unreasonable, or evil. When it comes to sacrilegious expression, then, civility is not doing much work.
 Christoph Riedweg, Pythagoras: His life, teaching, and influence (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002), 70.
 Ibid., 69, 71. Aristotle also floats the suggestion that the Pythagorean injunction meant to abstain from politics, as dried beans were used in the casting of votes.
 "On Liberty," in The basic writings of John Stuart Mill (New York: Random House, 2002), 72.
 Nathan Gardels, "Cartoon controversy is not a matter of free speech, but civic responsibility" [interview with Tariq Ramadan], New Perspectives Quarterly (2 February 2006) http://www.digitalnpq.org/articles/global/56/02-02-2006/tariq_ramadan; accessed 13 April 2011.civic  This tradition is associated most closely with Ronald Dworkin and Robert C. Post. See Post, Constitutional domains (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); "Racist speech, democracy, and the First Amendment" (1991). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 208. http://digitalcommons.law. yale.edu/fss_papers/208; accessed 22 April 2011; Dworkin, Sovereign virtue: The theory and practice of equality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); "Even Bigots and Holocaust Deniers Must Have Their Say," The Guardian (14 February 2006).
 Alexander Meiklejohn, Free speech and its relation to self-government (Philadelphia: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2004), 22.
 Ibid., 23.
 For the purposes of this discussion, I am distinguishing this procedural claim about civility from a substantive claim about the practical necessity of according equal moral standing to discussion partners, which could be used to generate an argument against "hate speech." See Steven J. Heyman, "Hate speech, public discourse, and the First Amendment," in Ivan Hare and James Weinstein, eds., Extreme speech and democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010): 158-81.
 Jürgen Habermas, Moral consciousness and communicative action, Shierry Weber Nicholsen and Christian Lenhardt, trans. (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992); Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy(Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1996).
 Philip Pettit and Michael Smith, "Freedom in Belief and Desire," The Journal of Philosophy 93, no. 9 (September 1996): 429-49. For discussion, see Stephen Darwall, The Second-Person Standpoint (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).