In this paper, I develop an essentialist model of the semantics of slurs. I defend the view that slurs are a species of kind terms: Slur concepts encode mini-theories which represent an essence-like element that is causally connected to a set of negatively-valenced stereotypical features of a social group. The truth-conditional contribution of slur nouns can then be captured by the following schema: For a given slur S of a social group G and a person P, S is true of (...) P iff P bears the “essence” of G—whatever this essence is—which is causally responsible for stereotypical negative features associated with G and predicted of P. Since there is no essence that is causally responsible for stereotypical negative features of a social group, slurs have null-extension, and consequently, many sentences containing them are either meaningless or false. After giving a detailed outline of my theory, I show that it receives strong linguistic support. In particular, it can account for a wide range of linguistic cases that are regarded as challenging, central data for any theory of slurs. Finally, I show that my theory also receives convergent support from cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. (shrink)
Psychological essentialism is the hypothesis that humans represent some categories as having an underlying essence that unifies members of a category and is causally responsible for their typical attributes and behaviors. Throughout the past several decades, psychological essentialism has emerged as an extremely active area of research in cognitive science. More recently, it has also attracted attention from philosophers, who put the empirical results to use in many different philosophical areas, ranging from philosophy of mind and cognitive science to social (...) philosophy. This article aims to give philosophers who are new to the topic an overview of the key empirical findings surrounding psychological essentialism, and some of the ways the hypothesis and its related findings have been discussed, extended, and applied in philosophical research. (shrink)
In two recent papers, Rose and Nichols present evidence in favor of the view that humans represent category essences in terms of a telos, such as honey-making, and not in terms of scientific essences, such as bee DNA. In this paper, I challenge their interpretation of the evidence, and show that it is directly predicted by the main theory they seek to undermine. I argue that their results can be explained as instances of diagnostic reasoning about scientific essences.
In this paper, I defend Non-Inferentialism about mental states, the view that we can perceive some mental states in a direct, non-inferential way. First, I discuss how the question of mental state perception is to be understood in light of recent debates in the philosophy of perception, and reconstruct Non-Inferentialism in a way that makes the question at hand—whether we can perceive mental states or not—scientifically tractable. Next, I motivate Non-Inferentialism by showing that under the assumption of the widely-accepted Principle (...) of Cognitive Economy, any account that treats mental state perception as an inferential process commits itself to an unrealistically inefficient picture of our cognitive architecture. Drawing on research in cognitive science, I will then show that my Non-Inferentialist view receives direct support by the available empirical evidence. I conclude that there is no psychologically relevant sense in which perception of mental states differs from paradigmatic cases of perception, such as the perception of ordinary objects. (shrink)
One of the core insights from Eleanor Rosch’s work on categorization is that human categorization isn’t arbitrary. Instead, two psychological principles constrain possible systems of classification for all human cultures. According to these principles, the task of a category system is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort, and the perceived world provides us with structured rather than arbitrary features. In this paper, I show that Rosch's insights give us important resources for making progress on the 'feasibility question' (...) in conceptual engineering: the question of how we can implement conceptual engineering projects in ways that are practically feasible. Specifically, I show that one overlooked upshot of Rosch's work is that naming practices play an extremely important role in the construction of perceived similarities within and dissimilarities between categories, and, correspondingly, the dissemination of social stereotypes that serve as markers between different categories that are otherwise similar. Thus, naming practices will be a crucial constraint for the feasibility of certain ameliorative projects. (shrink)
The objective of this paper is to show that pornography dehumanizes women through essentialization. First, I argue that certain acts of subject-essentialization are acts of subject-dehumanization. Second, I demonstrate, by reviewing evidence about the linguistic material that we find in and around pornography, that pornography systematically deploys content that essentializes women in the ways identified as problematic. It follows that pornography dehumanizes women.
Generic statements (‘Tigers have stripes’) are pervasive and early-emerging modes of generalization with a distinctive linguistic profile. Previous experimental work found that generics display a unique asymmetry between their acceptance conditions and the implications that are typically drawn from them. This paper presents evidence against the hypothesis that only generics display an asymmetry. Correcting for limitations of previous designs, we found a generalized asymmetry effect across generics, various kinds of explicitly quantified statements (‘most’, ‘some’, ‘typically’, ‘usually’), and variations in types (...) of predicated properties (striking vs. neutral). We discuss implications of these results for our understanding of the source of asymmetry effects and whether and in which ways these effects might introduce biased beliefs into social networks. (shrink)
In paradigmatic cases of subtweeting, one Twitter user critically or mockingly tweets about another person without mentioning their username or their name. In this chapter, we give an account of the strategic aims of subtweeting and the mechanics through which it achieves them. We thereby hope to shed light on the distinctive communicative and moral texture of subtweeting while filling in a gap in the philosophical literature on strategic speech in social media. We first specify what subtweets are and identify (...) the central features that give rise to their strategic mechanics. Next, we draw attention to problematic aspects of subtweeting and consider conditions under which subtweeting can be justified on moral and prudential grounds. The chapter concludes by discussing practical upshots and noting avenues for future work. (shrink)
Social stimuli grab our attention: we attend to them in an automatic and bottom-up manner, and ascribe them a higher degree of saliency compared to non-social stimuli. However, it has rarely been investigated how variations in attention affect the processing of social stimuli, although the answer could help us uncover details of social cognition processes such as action understanding. In the present study, we examined how changes to bottom-up attention affects neural EEG-responses associated with intentional action processing. We induced an (...) increase in bottom-up attention by using hypnosis. We recorded the electroencephalographic µ-wave suppression of hypnotized participants when presented with intentional actions in first and third person perspective in a video-clip paradigm. Previous studies have shown that the µ-rhythm is selectively suppressed both when executing and observing goal-directed motor actions; hence it can be used as a neural signal for intentional action processing. Our results show that neutral hypnotic trance increases µ-suppression in highly suggestible participants when they observe intentional actions. This suggests that social action processing is enhanced when bottom-up attentional processes are predominant. Our findings support the Social Relevance Hypothesis, according to which social action processing is a bottom-up driven attentional process, and can thus be altered as a function of bottom-up processing devoted to a social stimulus. (shrink)
This dissertation defends the view that concepts encode causal information and, for the first time, applies this view to a range of topics in the philosophy of language and social philosophy. In my first chapter (“Cognitive Essentialism and the Structure of Concepts”), I survey the current empirical and theoretical literature on causal-essentialist theories of concepts. In my second chapter (“Meaning Externalism and Causal Model Theory”), I propose an account of natural kind concepts according to which they encode statistical information of (...) features of a natural kind, and represents these features as causally related to each other. I show that this internalist model of concepts correctly predicts intuitions about Putnam’s twin earth scenario and Kripke’s conceivability cases that historically motivated philosophers of language to accept externalist accounts of meaning. The defended theory of concepts also informs topics that go beyond traditional issues in philosophy of language. In my third chapter (“An Essentialist Theory of the Meaning of Slurs”), I defend the view that slurs are, too, a species of kind terms: slur concepts encode mini-theories which represent an essence-like element that is causally connected to a set of negatively-valenced stereotypical features of a social group. This explains both the peculiar linguistic behavior of slurs and slurs’ dehumanizing effects. In my fourth chapter, I build on this insight, showing that the explicit language in and around pornography depicts women as ‘kinds’ or ‘breeds’ that are naturally made to enjoy certain sexual acts, and argue that this deterministic picture of women dehumanizes them. (shrink)