Stereotyping and Generics

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-17 (2022)
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We use generic sentences like ‘Blondes are stupid’ to express stereotypes. But why is this? Does the fact that we use generic sentences to express stereotypes mean that stereotypes are themselves, in some sense, generic? I argue that they are. However, stereotypes are mental and generics linguistic, so how can stereotypes be generic? My answer is that stereotypes are generic in virtue of the beliefs they contain. Stereotypes about blondes being stupid contain a belief element, namely a belief that blondes are stupid. This belief is an attitude taken towards the same proposition expressed by the sentence ‘Blondes are stupid’, hence why we use the latter to articulate the former. This generic account of stereotypes can help us better understand their inner workings. I focus on one feature of generics, variability in the types of facts that can make them true, and argue that it can explain how stereotypes shape inferential patterns and thereby guide how we treat members of stereotyped groups. This feature, in turn, illuminates the harms caused by stereotyping and suggests some courses of action.



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Annie Bosse
Cambridge University

Citations of this work

Engineering Social Concepts: Labels and the Science of Categorization.Eleonore Neufeld - forthcoming - In Sally Haslanger, Karen Jones, Greg Restall, Francois Schroeter & Laura Schroeter (eds.), Mind, Language, and Social Hierarchy: Constructing a Shared Social World. Oxford University Press.
Prejudice, generics, and resistance to evidence.M. Giulia Napolitano - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

A Natural History of Negation.Laurence R. Horn - 1989 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 24 (2):164-168.
Generics: Cognition and acquisition.Sarah-Jane Leslie - 2008 - Philosophical Review 117 (1):1-47.
The Radical Account of Bare Plural Generics.Anthony Nguyen - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (5):1303-1331.

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