What kind of a mistake is it to use a slur?

Philosophical Studies 172 (4):1079-1104 (2015)
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Abstract

What accounts for the offensive character of pejoratives and slurs, words like ‘kike’ and ‘nigger’? Is it due to a semantic feature of the words or to a pragmatic feature of their use? Is it due to a violation of a group’s desires to not be called by certain terms? Is it due to a violation of etiquette? According to one kind of view, pejoratives and the non-pejorative terms with which they are related—the ‘neutral counterpart’ terms—have different meanings or senses, and this explains the offensiveness of the pejoratives. We call theories of this kind, semantic theories of the pejoratives. Our goal is broadly speaking two-fold. First, we will undermine the arguments that are supposed to establish the distinction in meaning between words like ‘African American’ and ‘nigger’. We will show that the arguments are suspect and generalize in untoward ways. Second, we will provide a series of arguments against semantic theories. For simplicity, we focus on a semantic theory that has been proposed by Hom and Hom and May. By showing the systematic ways in which their view fails we hope to provide general lessons about why we should avoid semantic theories of the pejoratives

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Author Profiles

David Copp
University of California, Davis
Adam Sennet
University of California, Davis

Citations of this work

The Social Life of Slurs.Geoff Nunberg - 2018 - In Daniel Fogal, Daniel W. Harris & Matt Moss (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford University Press. pp. 237–295.
Pejoratives as Fiction.Christopher Hom & Robert May - 2018 - In David Sosa (ed.), Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Loaded Words: On the Semantics and Pragmatics of Slurs.Kent Bach - 2018 - In David Sosa (ed.), Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 60-76.
Semantic contestations and the meaning of politically significant terms.Deborah Mühlebach - 2021 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 64 (8):788-817.

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New Work For a Theory of Universals.David Lewis - 1983 - In D. H. Mellor & Alex Oliver (eds.), Properties. Oxford University Press.
Putnam’s paradox.David Lewis - 1984 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (3):221 – 236.
When Truth Gives Out.Mark Richard - 2008 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

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