The semantics of racial slurs: Using kaplan’s framework to provide a theory of the meaning of derogatory epithets

Authors
Joseph Hedger
Syracuse University
Abstract
In this paper I adopt Kaplan’s framework for distinguishing between descriptive and expressive content. Racial slurs are an especially difficult challenge for truth-conditional semantics because of their projection behaviors. That is to say, the offensive content of slurs “scopes out” of logical operators. I argue that racial slurs express contempt and lack descriptive content, so that many sentences containing slurs are not truth apt. My theory accounts for the intuition of the ordinary speaker who refuses to assent to the truth of a sentence containing a slur, but accepts the same statement made using a neutral counterpart of that slur. Weaknesses of rival theories are briefly discussed
Keywords slurs  expressivism  David Kaplan  philosophy of language  semantics  epithets  projection  Timothy Williamson  pejoratives
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