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Race, Gender, and Feminist Philosophy: Elli Neufeld (USC)

An Essentialist Theory of the Meaning of Slurs
Monday, February 25, 2019
6:15-8:30 PM
Tanner Library (Room 1171) Angell Hall Map
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.
Building: Angell Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Philosophy
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Philosophy