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Clarificatory Note on Citation
I'm using "Bolinger" as the last name, "Jorgensen" as middle name, following the convention invoked by Delia Graff Fara (who notes that "Judith Jarvis Thomson"/"Elizabeth Cady Stanton"/"Hillary Rodham Clinton"/"Ruth Barcan Marcus" invoke the same convention).
- For full-name references, use 'Renee Jorgensen Bolinger'; for last-name-only references, use 'Bolinger'. Thanks!
- It is standardly assumed that an adequate semantics of slurring terms must account for the peculiar embedding pattern exhibited by slurs, explaining why slurs often cause offense despite logical embedding. I argue that the offense generation pattern of slurring terms parallels that of impoliteness behaviors, and is best explained by appeal to purely pragmatic mechanisms akin to those at work in impoliteness phenomena. In short, in choosing to use a slurring term rather than its neutral counterpart, the speaker signals that she endorses the term (and its associations). Such an attitude is offensive, and consequently slurs generate offense whenever a speaker’s use demonstrates a contrastive preference for the slurring term. Since such an explanation comes at low theoretical cost and imposes few constraints on an account of the semantics of slurs, this suggests that we should not require semantic accounts to provide an independent explanation of embedding patterns.
- Rights to do wrong may be conceptually possible, but (contra Waldron, Enoch, and Herstein) they are not necessary (even) within the framework of interest-based rights aimed at preserving autonomy. Agents can make morally significant choices and develop their moral character without a right to do wrong, so long as we either acknowledge supererogatory and minimally satisficing acts, or allow that there can be moral variation within the set of actions an agent is obligated to perform. Agents can also engage in non-trivial self-constitution in choosing between morally indifferent options, so long as there is adequate non-moral variation among the alternatives. Furthermore, the intuition that in some cases individuals do have a right to do wrong can be explained as stemming from a cautionary principle motivated by the asymmetry between the risk of wrongly interfering and that of refraining from interfering.
- Defensive harm can be justified not only by averting an actual threat, but also by a conventional signal that an apparent aggressor is a threat (even if mistaken). For this practice to be morally justified, and hence a genuine source of moral permissions, the signals selected must meet minimal moral constraints: to respect the equal rights of all members of the community, they must keep from placing any group in a position of default signaling. To respect their equal freedom, it must not be unduly burdensome for any group to refrain from signaling. In this paper I argue that we do in practice rely on a signaling system, but psychological data strongly suggests that in the United States, agents systematically treat racial markers as signals of threateningness. This practice violates both constraints, and consequently we have a distinctively social disjunctive obligation: either reform the signaling language so that it does not contain such impermissible signals, or else eschew reliance on signals.
Other Papers Under Development
The drafts of these papers are in progress; for a copy of one of the papers, please contact me (renee.bolinger[at]usc.edu). In addition to the papers below, I am also working on several papers for my dissertation.
- Pragmatic accounts of slurs are characterized by commitment to the equivalence thesis: that slurs are semantically equivalent to their neutral counterparts. I present the three most common objections to pragmatic approaches stemming from this thesis: the equivalence problem, that it makes “all (NCs) are (slurs)” a conceptual truth; the substitution problem, that the view falsely predicts slurs may be substituted into intensional contexts salva veritae; and the conversational problem, that reports omitting slurs are intuitively incomplete and thus indicate that slurs differ from NCs in semantic content. I show that pragmatic theorists have adequate responses to each objection. The substitution problem relies on principles she is free to deny, while the equivalence objection is question begging. Finally, the conversational problem relies on delicate data that does not clearly support a semantic interpretation.
- This paper aims to focus carefully on the topic of pejoratives relating to mental illness. I argue that though `crazy' and similar mental illness-based epithets (MI-epithets) are not best understood as slurs, they do function to isolate, exclude, and marginalize members of the targeted group in ways similar to the harmfulness of slurs more generally. While they do not generally express the hate/contempt characteristic of weaponized uses of slurs, MI-epithets perpetuate epistemic injustice by portraying sufferers of mental illness as deserving minimal credibility. After outlining the ways in which these epithets can cause harm, I examine available legal and social remedies, and suggest that the best path going forward is to pursue a reclamation project rather than aiming to censure the use of MI-epithets.
- The problem of moral disagreement has been presented as an objection to contextualist semantics for ought, since it is not clear that contextualism can accommodate or give a convincing gloss of such disagreement. I argue that independently of our semantics, disagreements over oughts in non-cooperative contexts are best understood in the framework of metalinguistic negation, which is easily accommodated by contextualism. If this is correct, then rather than posing a problem for contextualism, the data from moral disagreements provides some reason to adopt a semantics that allows variance in the meanings of oughts.
- Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has recently suggested that the best analysis of free is contrastive. To evaluate this proposal, we work out in more detail the defining features of a contrastive account. Drawing on the structure of contrastive analyses of knows and ought, we argue that contrast classes must display continued relevance and comparative dependence. We then show that while more free than may be contrastive, no contrastive analysis can respect the intuitive concept of free. Nevertheless, Sinnott-Armstrong’s proposed picture may yet be the best analysis of free: his account respects the contours of the intuitive concept, partly in virtue of failing to display features necessary to count as a contrastive analysis.