Not all slurs are equal

Phenomenology and Mind 11:150-156 (2016)

Abstract

Slurs are typically defined as conveying contempt based on group-membership. However, here I argue that they are not a unitary group. First, I describe two dimensions of variation among derogatives: how targets are identified, and how offensive the term is. This supports the typical definition of slurs as opposed to other derogatives. I then highlight problems with this definition, mainly caused by variable offence across slur words. In the process I discuss how major theories of slurs can account for variable offence, and conclude that contempt based on group-membership doesn’t cover all the data. I finish by noting that the most offensive slurs are those that target oppressed groups. I claim it is oppression that underpins most offence, and that beyond this offensive property, some slurs are actively used to oppress.

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References found in this work

Slurring Words.Luvell Anderson & Ernie Lepore - 2013 - Noûs 47 (1):25-48.
The Semantics of Racial Epithets.Christopher Hom - 2008 - Journal of Philosophy 105 (8):416-440.
Expressivism and the Offensiveness of Slurs.Robin Jeshion - 2013 - Philosophical Perspectives 27 (1):231-259.
Genocidal Language Games.Lynne Tirrell - 2012 - In Ishani Maitra & Mary Kate McGowan (eds.), Speech and Harm: Controversies Over Free Speech. Oxford University Press. pp. 174--221.
The Expressive Dimension.Christopher Potts - 2007 - Theoretical Linguistics 33 (2):165-198.

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Citations of this work

Slurs, Roles and Power.Mihaela Popa-Wyatt & Jeremy L. Wyatt - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (11):2879-2906.
What Counts as an Insult?Ivan Milić - 2018 - Acta Analytica 33 (4):539-552.

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