Featured Philosop-her: Gina Schouten

Gina Schouten

Gina Schouten is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Illinois State University. Before coming to Illinois State, Gina completed her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. Her research interests include political legitimacy, educational justice, gender in the family, and diversity problems within the discipline of philosophy. She is currently working on a paper that extends her previous work on stereotype threat in academic philosophy, in which she argues for the expansion of pre-collegiate philosophy instruction as a possible remedy for the underrepresentation of women in the field. Other projects in progress include a series of papers concerning the legitimacy of political interventions to alter the gendered division of labor.

What do we owe the violinist? Some musings on the ethics and politics of abortion

Gina Schouten

Though abortion is a profoundly controversial ethical issue among the population at large, it seems to be fairly decisively settled among feminists. Feminists who endorse women’s full equality in workplaces, politics, and intimate relationships have generally regarded strong protections for reproductive freedoms as essential to securing that equality. I agree that efforts to achieve women’s social and political equality are likely to be frustrated by restrictions on abortion. My sense is that these facts have been taken by many feminists to settle at least the politics of abortion, if not the ethics as well: Women’s equality is an urgent requirement of justice, and that equality depends upon women having the capacity to decide whether and when to have children. Thus, we must assure women access to the tools necessary to choose freely whether and when to become pregnant; and, at least so long as that capacity cannot perfectly be assured, we must assure their access to the tools necessary to end pregnancies that they do not want.

But the urgency of securing women’s equality, and the fact that abortion restrictions frustrate that goal, do not suffice to settle the ethics or politics of abortion.

There are, of course, many different kinds of people who think of themselves as feminists, and some so called “pro-life feminists” argue that women’s interests are actually furthered by restrictions on abortion.[1] These arguments are unpersuasive. But it seems to me that there are some genuine feminist commitments that challenge the moral permissibility of abortion, and that challenge the impermissibility of policies that aim to restrict it.

I assume that restrictions on abortion frustrate the cause of women’s equality. Even so, I want to suggest, tentatively, that such restrictions may nonetheless be justified, all-things-considered. Judith Thomson’s now iconic defense of abortion asks us to assume that the fetus is a person.[2] Still, she argues, this does not suffice to show that it is impermissible to kill it: If the fetus is a person, then its interest in the use of the woman’s body to sustain its life is a morally relevant interest. But according to Thomson, that interest is, in many cases, decisively outweighed by the interests of the woman whose body it is.

On what grounds is this weighting so decisive?

Some of our most basic feminist commitments entail that, if the fetus becomes a member of the moral community at some point during fetal development, then at that point its interests become morally very weighty indeed. Feminists have powerfully drawn attention to the ubiquity of dependence, and the implications of dependence for our moral and political theorizing. We all rely on the care we receive from others to meet our basic needs and to flourish, and our dependence does not lessen our moral claim to have our interests respected and considered in moral decision-making. Moral theorizing is flawed, for example, insofar as it lacks the resources to secure the status of children, people with disabilities, or other dependents as direct and unambiguous moral subjects. This commitment of feminists also makes vivid the fact that moral obligations can compel us even when those obligations are not voluntarily undertaken. Thus are we owed care during times of dependency even if we have no intimate relations who are intrinsically motivated to provide that care.

Because they have so compellingly drawn attention to these implications of our common need for care, feminists are especially well-positioned to recognize a crucial, if contingent, point about the ethics of abortion: Whether or not fetuses are members of the moral community whose interests must be taken into account, their neediness does not suffice to exclude them from the moral community; nor, if fetuses have morally relevant interests, are those interests rendered less weighty by virtue of the fetuses’ reliance on others to have them met. Presumably, the fetal interest implicated in the abortion debate is something like the interest in receiving the care necessary for survival. That seems, prima facie, to be a strong interest. If that interest is not weakened by the fetus’s dependence, then we have some presumptive reason—conditional on Thomson’s assumption that the fetus’s interests are morally relevant to begin with—to think that interest is morally weighty indeed.

Women have a morally weighty interest in reproductive freedom. But as Thomson rightly points out, very morally weighty interests can be in tension with other very morally weighty interests. Under some conceivable circumstances, then, very morally weighty interests can justifiably be frustrated. If this is right, then the fact that abortion restrictions are very bad for women does not yet suffice to show that those restrictions are unjustified, all-things-considered. I am genuinely unsure whether the fetus’s interests are morally relevant, and if so, at what point during the pregnancy they become so. But contra Thomson, I think that answering these questions is of paramount importance. And if the fetus does have moral status, then one initially appealing strategy for discounting the weight of its claims is ruled out by feminist commitments: Dependency does not lessen one’s moral status.

The slogan “the personal is political” captures another paradigmatic commitment of feminism. The personal is political because intimate relationships can give rise to profound vulnerabilities, and these vulnerabilities can generate claims of justice that are no less urgent in virtue of arising in intimate relationships. On these grounds, feminists have rightly resisted those who would classify the family as a “private” realm and afford families presumptive immunity against political intervention. The vulnerabilities of unpaid caregivers, we argue, generate demands of justice even when those receiving care are intimates whom the caregiver loves, and even when the resulting inequalities occur between intimates, such as between the caregiver and her spouse. Because the personal is political, we endorse political protections to secure women’s equality not only in the workplace but in the home as well.

It is tempting to treat abortion as a personal issue. But the personal becomes political when the choices we make have profound implications regarding others’ lives. I have suggested that even the strongest and most compelling interests—such as the interest in securing women’s bodily integrity through reproductive freedom—can conflict with others that are similarly strong and compelling. If fetuses’ interests are morally relevant, then it is difficult to see how we could avoid classifying reproductive choices as political.

Of course, even assuming that fetuses are members of the moral community whose interests must be accorded weight in moral and political calculations, women’s quite strong interest in exercising control over their bodies may be decisive. The importance of reproductive control in securing women’s most basic equality might render their interest sufficiently strong and fundamental to override any countervailing considerations. But even if women’s reproductive freedom is overridingly important, there are nonetheless reasons to keep track of morally important trade-offs that we make in securing it. The difference between a moral calculus in which the fetus’s interests do not matter and one in which they matter but are outweighed might have relevance for both our rhetoric and our policy endorsements.

If we recognize the fetus’s interests as morally important, though, is it so obvious that they are outweighed, even by the extraordinarily strong interest in protecting rights to reproductive freedom? I worry that we might, after all, have some obligation to stay plugged into the violinist. The needs and vulnerabilities of others generate powerful moral obligations, and feminists have long been banner-carriers in the recognition of those obligations. Moreover, if the vulnerability of the fetus is morally important, then it has many of the hallmarks of the personal and yet still political vulnerabilities that feminists have been particularly adept at theorizing.

In considering this possibility, we must remember that ubiquitous dependency generates ubiquitous moral obligations as well: There are serious costs to doing the socially necessary and morally obligatory work of caregiving. We must develop policies to share the costs of discharging such obligations fairly, and to compensate those who incur costs that cannot be shared. If fetuses are morally significant, then the vulnerabilities of those who care for them are particularly urgent, since the most serious harms are entirely non-transferrable. If fetuses’ interests generate moral imperatives, and if pregnant women are uniquely in a position to provide the care they need, the rest of us have obligations to share the costs of providing care insofar as sharing them is possible, and to take other steps to ease resultant vulnerabilities when sharing is not possible. If sustaining fetuses turns out, under some circumstances, to be morally obligatory care, then feminists should endorse protections and social supports for those who perform it and call for new social and medical technologies to share its costs more broadly.

Thomson was right that the fetus’s having morally relevant interests does not suffice to show that abortion is morally impermissible. But we must also recognize a corresponding—if far less welcome—insight: The moral relevance of women’s very strong interest in reproductive freedom does not suffice to show that abortion is morally permissible, or that restricting it is always illegitimate. If we assume with Thomson that the fetus is a person, then our obligations to care for it are weighty indeed. Even if we acknowledge that restrictions on abortion would frustrate profoundly worthy feminist goals, we should consider whether, after all, the ethics and politics of abortion crucially depend on the moral status of the fetus and the moral weight of its interests.

Because I believe that restrictions on abortion are likely to undermine women’s equality, I want for the ethics of abortion to be settled decisively in favor of the woman’s right to choose, and for the politics of abortion to be settled in favor of strong protections for that right. But when I scrutinize my conviction that abortion is permissible and that robust protections for access to abortion are desirable, I am dismayed to find that conviction in tension with other commitments I have that I take to be distinctly feminist. I welcome any thoughts about whether the tension is genuine or merely apparent, and, if it is genuine, how it is best resolved.

[1] I set aside questions about what views are properly regarded as “feminist.”

[2] Thomson Judith J. (1971). “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 1(1): 47-66.

Featured Philosop-her: Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Carolyn Jennings


Carolyn Dicey Jennings is Half-British, Half-American and grew up in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. She went to the University of St Andrews in Scotland for her undergraduate degree in philosophy and Boston University for graduate degrees in philosophy (PhD) and psychology (MA). She worked with Takeo Watanabe’s Vision Lab as a Research Assistant while completing the MA at BU. She then worked with Bence Nanay as a postdoctoral researcher for a year on his Between Perception and Action project in Antwerp, Belgium before taking up an Assistant Professor position at the University of California, Merced. She works at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science on the topic of attention, especially as it relates to perception, consciousness, action, and responsibility. She is researching issues of bias as part of her project on forms of responsibility outside of attention.


Mine the Gap

Carolyn Dicey Jennings

This is an important week for me. First, the situation in Ferguson and elsewhere has made the issue of bias a pressing one for me. Second, having my parents, all five of my sisters, and their partners (and dogs!) in Merced for Thanksgiving means that I am not getting much sleep. This has made me reflect a little on the attempt to fight harmful biases through self-control and vigilance—if this is our primary method of fighting our own biases, we had better have a strategy for avoiding ‘cognitive sleep’ on the job. But as much as we know about how to avoid sleeping in important meetings, we don’t know much about how to avoid slipping into harmful biases. All of us have oversights. We overlook those who are differently abled, more feminine, more foreign, shorter, less attractive, etc. We do not have the cognitive resources to account for all of these oversights on a regular basis. For those of us who make decisions under cognitive load, who may sometimes slip into something of a cognitive sleep, it might be useful to put aside time to “mine the gap.” That is, to actively explore the space that we may have overlooked for gems. Here are some methods that have worked for me. These methods do not require vigilance, which should be useful at Thanksgiving, or any time you are low on resources, sleep or otherwise.


  • The Take 5 Method

This and the next method come from a post that I originally put up at New APPS exactly two years ago today (November 28th, 2012). I removed that and other posts in December 2012 when I considered leaving the blog (ultimately changing my mind). I am adding the text from that original post here:

“Over at FeministPhilosophers, a post was made on a new call to action: the journal Nature has called for its editors to insert a step into their method of choosing authors, wherein they must try to think of 5 female scientists who could be asked before finalizing their choice. As they put it:

“We believe that in commissioning articles or in thinking about who is doing interesting or relevant work, for all of the social factors already mentioned, and possibly for psychological reasons too, men most readily come to editorial minds. The September paper speculated about an unconscious assumption that women are less competent than men. A moment’s reflection about past and present female colleagues should lead most researchers to correct any such assumption. We therefore believe that there is a need for every editor to work through a conscious loop before proceeding with commissioning: to ask themselves, ‘Who are the five women I could ask?’”

I was inspired by this bold proposal to think of how it might be adapted for use by academic philosophers. If one wanted to follow this proposal, a helpful memory aid could be the lists collected at the APA Status for Women in Philosophy Website, which I recommend using. One limitation of the proposal is that it focuses on biases that harm female scientists, without accounting for the biases that harm, for instance, racial minorities. And so I unveil…”


  • The Extended Mind Method

“Conference organizers, book editors, and award committees, instead of relying on your own memories to come up with the relevant names, why not rely on The Extended Mind? In this case, I am using “The Extended Mind” to refer to the aggregate of publicly available information on working philosophers and their research. One could start by choosing a specific topic and then look at all those papers published (in the last ten years?) on that topic and choose names based on the best of these.

For example, if I wanted to put together an invite-only conference on the topic of attention, I could go to PhilPapers and look at papers by searching for “attention.” Here are the steps I took as an exercise, with optional elements italicized (which I wrote out so that anyone can copy and use them):

Step 1: Search PhilPapers for “Attention” in Advanced Search with the years 2002 to 2012.

Step 2: Select “Published Only” and hit “Apply.”

Step 3: Sort by “Relevance.”

Step 4: Export this page as “Formatted Text” for 200 items.

Step 5: Open a new Excel Workbook.

Step 6: Copy and Paste all text from the formatted text to column A of the Excel spreadsheet.

Step 7: Sort A to Z.

Step 8: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Find Function: type in A1 “=FIND(“(“, B1″)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 9: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Mid Function: type in A1 “=MID(C1, 1, B1-1)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 10: Insert a column to the left of A and copy column B to A (paste “values only”) and then go to “Data” and “Remove Duplicates” for column A only.

Step 11: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Count Function: type in A1 “=COUNTIF(C:C, B2)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 12: Sort (Custom Sort) Column A and B largest to smallest by column A values.

This results in the following list of philosophers with 2 or more publications on the topic together with the number of publications to the left (I am not on this list because my married and maiden names differ, which could be a problem with the method, but let’s forge ahead!):

6 Christopher Mole

5 Sebastian Watzl

4 Wayne Wu

3 Austen Clark

3 Brian Bruya

3 Victor A. F. Lamme

2 A. Charles Catania

2 Axel Seemann

2 Daniel Collerton, Elaine Perry, and Ian McKeath

2 Ingar Brinck

2 J. Campbell

2 Jason Ford

2 John G. Taylor

2 Juan Pascual-Leone

2 Luis Jimenez

2 Naomi M. Eilan

2 Natalie Depraz

2 P. Sven Arvidson

Some of these names are not well known to me, which is why this method should be helpful to bring to mind authors that may otherwise suffer from bias. Of these authors there are 16 men and 4 women, which means that the method yielded, in this case, 20% female authors. This could be improved, but it is a good start.

This approach has the advantage of taking the emphasis off particular people and putting it onto their work. This should help with all kinds of bias, including name bias, racial bias, gender bias, etc.

This approach also has several problems. First, the best available database, PhilPapers, is not complete. Second, PhilPapers is gargantuan, which makes it less likely that the relevant parties will follow the steps I list above for search terms that yield very large numbers of names.”

In the original blog post, I then go on to discuss how one might develop graphics that would improve this method. Instead of discussing that proposal, I want to write about how an application of this method helped me in a recent project: a book review of Wayne Wu’s Attention.


  • The Mixed Method

In reading Wu’s book, I was struck by both the breadth of the literature he cites and the gaps in that literature. Coming from a graduate program with emphases in the history of philosophy and phenomenology, I found these absences most striking. I decided to run some tests to check for other absences. This is how I did it.

First, I went through the text and jotted down every name with multiple mentions. I created a list of these in Excel, tagging the names of women authors. Using a pdf copy of the book, I then used the “find” feature of Adobe Acrobat to determine the number of mentions per name. I found that 14% of the authors mentioned three or more times were women, but that 18% of these citations were of women authors (18%), roughly approximating the proportion of women in full-time positions in academic philosophy (16.6%).

Second, as with the Extended Mind Method, I did a PhilPapers search for “attention,” selecting the first 500 “most relevant” papers. I used the “Find” and “Mid” functions discussed above to isolate author names, and then used the “Consolidate” feature to sum up the number of publications per author. I selected all those authors with at least two such papers and then tagged the names of women authors. There were 16% women authors on this list of 45 authors. I compared this list to the list I created from Wu’s book, and found that roughly half–22 of the 45 authors–had not been mentioned in his book. I then explored the papers of these authors, finding some of them (8 of the 22) clearly relevant to the topics of the book. (I mentioned a few of these names in a footnote of the book review.)

Third, I used Google Scholar to perfom two searches: one for “attention” and “action” in the title and one for “attention” and “phenomenology” in the title. In this process, I discovered 7 highly cited articles clearly relevant to the themes of the book. (I mentioned a few of these names in the same footnote.)

What I noticed in this process is that Wu’s scholarship appears to be gender neutral: he cited women in approximately the same proportion that they publish on this topic. Nonetheless, as with any academic work, the scholarship has noteworthy gaps. Two of those gaps were apparent to me because of my educational background (historical philosophy and phenomenology), but these could have arisen for someone without such a background who used this procedure.

Each of us has our own such gaps. I hope that these and other methods will help to explore these gaps to expand the scope and quality of our research.

Featured Philosop-her: Robin Jeshion


Robin Jeshion is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. She specializes in the philosophy of language and mind, focusing especially on topics concerning the ways that language contributes to shaping cognition, and cognition shapes and is manifest in language.  Her research includes work on the relationship between the semantics of singular terms and the nature of singular thought; the semantics of demonstratives and the nature of perception and spatial representation; the semantic, cognitive, and social functions of proper names.  Most recently, she has been writing about slurring terms, and related expressions, attempting to understand to what extent attitudes and/or social structures are incorporated within their semantics and pragmatics.  Outside of mind and language, she has written about mathematical intuition, a priori knowledge, the epistemological status of proofs, and Frege’s logicism. Before returning to USC, she taught at Yale University, the University of California, Riverside, the University of Arizona, and spent a year as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, supported by an ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship. This spring, she will deliver the Wedberg Lectures in Stockholm, presenting Dehumanizing Slurs, four talks that bring together much of her work on this topic.

Slurs, Dehumanization, and the Expression of Contempt

Robin Jeshion

Thank you, Meena, for running this terrific blog and inviting me to present a post.  I’ve lately been thinking and writing about slurring words, expressions like “Kike”, “Chink”, “Spic”, and “faggot”, pejorative terms that target individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status, occupation, and various other socially important properties.  Such expressions raise a spate of questions regarding their semantics and pragmatics: Do sentences containing slurs ever express truths?  How can we account for what has come to be called in the literature the ‘offensiveness’ of slurs? Is it somehow semantically encoded as a proposition, perhaps a proposition encoding the stereotype of the group or a proposition encoding that the group merits contempt? Or is it rather that slurs are terms conventionally used for expressing a speaker’s attitude, perhaps an attitude of contempt?  Is a semantic explanation needed at all to account for slurs’ offensiveness – perhaps it can rather be explained entirely pragmatically, e.g., by reference to social prohibitions on uses of slurs or socio-linguistic facts regarding which groups tend to use slurs? Do those who use slurs engage in actions of “othering”, and if so, is this captured linguistically?  How can we explain the fact that uses of slurs are extraordinarily destructive – dehumanizing – to their targets and can tend to make hearers feel complicit?  What accounts for the fact that those who use slurs signal something about their social allegiances and affiliations? How should we explain the appropriation of slurs, the phenomena through which a slur’s offensiveness is neutralized?  What is the relationship between slurring terms and various other pejoratives, expressions like “jerk”, “freak”, “wino”, “blimp”, “commie” – are any of these of the same linguistic type? And how are they related to approbatives like “goddess”, “hottie, “saint”, and “ace”? And bare expressive intensifiers like “damn” and ‘effin”? It would be easy to go on, to spin out twelve more questions. With such a rich set of phenomena – and obviously deeply important social, political, and psychological matters at stake – it is no wonder that interest in such expressions has been rapidly accelerating.

The text that follows is adapted from a paper in which I offer a bare sketch of my semantic theory of slurs.  The view is inspired by two key ideas.  One is that there are multiple sources of the offensiveness in utterances of slurs, only some of which ought to be explained semantically. The dominant aspect of slurs’ offensiveness that should be explained semantically is needed to explain their capacity to dehumanize. John Amaechi, the first NBA player to openly identify as gay, called slurs “a threat to human dignity” and remarked about the slur “faggot”:

…young people are being killed and killing themselves simply because of the words and behaviors they are subjected to for being perceived as lesbian or gay, or frankly just different. This is…an indication of the power of that word, and others like it, to brutalize and dehumanize.

Amachi’s remarks are apt. Slurs dehumanize.

We need a theory of slurring terms that fully explains how and why they dehumanize, one that explains how they signal that their targets are unworthy of equal standing or full respect as persons, that they are inferior as persons. Extant analyses of slurs’ semantics have faired poorly on this score. I hope to do better with the account I offer.

The other key idea is that slurring terms function semantically in virtually the same way that their neutral counterparts function when given contemptuous intonation and when fronted by certain expletives or negative adjectives.

[1]Jake is a Kike.

[1a]Jake is a fucking Jew.

[1b]Jake is a JewC.

(I use italics to denote intonational stress, and superscripts to italicized material to indicate the type of prosodic pattern given to the word, where the superscript letter denotes the affective attitude conveyed by that pattern. Here, “C” denotes contemptuousness.) In effect, [1],[1a], and [1b] all mean the same thing.


On the view I favor, slurring terms possess three separable semantic components. One is the group-designating component. A slurring term, references the group that is referenced by its neutral counterpart. The truth of sentence [1] depend only upon whether Jake is Jewish, and so is truth conditionally equivalent to [1NC].

[1] Jake is a Kike.

[1NC] Jake is Jewish.

So slurring terms share some semantic structure with their neutral counterparts. However, given that the slur and neutral counterpart make parallel semantic contributions along this dimension, the group-designating component does not account for slurs’ offensiveness. This marks its separation from the other two components of the semantics, both of which, likewise, make no contribution to the truth conditions.

The second component is expressivist:  slurring terms are used to express contempt for members of a socially relevant group on account of their being in that group or having a group-defining property. Note that this component involves the expression of the speaker’s attitude toward his targets, not a separately semantically encoded descriptive content, say, contemptible on account of being Jewish.  Views on which slurring terms semantically encode such descriptive contents are markedly different.  Suppose that “Kike*” encodes the descriptive content given by “worthy of contempt on account of being Jewish”. Then, although it is not misconceived to regard the utterances of

[1] Jake is a Kike

[1c] Jake is a Kike*

as communicating the same information, they do so in different ways.  While the utterance of [1c] encodes the proposition that the target is worthy of contempt on account of being Jewish, the utterance of [1] does no such thing.  It communicates, rather, the speaker’s contempt itself, which is expressed, not asserted.  A proponent of the analysis involving semantic descriptive encoding will be hard-pressed to explain why the negation of [1c], as in “Jake is not a Kike*” or “It is not the case that Jake is a Kike*”, are not what would be used to deny the derogating content of [1]. Yet they ought to do so if “Kike” is synonymous with “Kike*”.

This expressive component indicates that slurring terms share semantic properties with other expressives like intensifiers (“totally” in “That is totally interesting”), exclamatives (“holy crap!”, “Wow!” “Ouch!”) and other explicitly performative expressives (“right on!”) which similarly function to express speakers’ emotional or attitudinal states and do not contribute meaning by predicating a descriptive content.

Despite this similarity in semantic structure with other expressives, do not assimilate the expressive component of slurring terms to the “mere” expression of a feeling, like a flash of anger or a state of frustration. While contempt is an affectively laden attitude, often accompanied by feelings of abhorrence, hostility, and hatred, no particular “raw” subjective feeling need be felt by one who uses a slur.  Indeed, one could express contempt for someone coolly, without any “heat-of-the-moment” feeling.  Furthermore, the expression of contempt differs from the expression of purely subjective feelings like pain or fear or astonishment, which are largely insulated from normative assessment and neither implicate nor represent their objects as pain-, fear-, or astonishment- worthy.  By contrast, contempt, like resentment, is a highly structured affectively- and normatively-guided moral attitude that is subject to evaluation for its appropriateness.  As such, in using slurs, speakers not only express their own contempt for the target, but also implicitly represent (but still do not say or assert that) their targets as worthy of contempt. And because contempt is a moral attitude specifically held toward those one regards as inferior as persons, users of slurs thereby implicate that targets ought to be so-regarded as inferior.

The third component to slurs’ semantics is what I call the identifying component. Extant expressivist views neglect this component, and thus, to my mind, haven’t gone far enough in accounting for how the nature of contempt infects slurring terms’ semantics. Contempt involves taking those properties that are the basis for regarding the target contemptuously as fundamental to the targets’ identity as a person and this feature of contempt is semantically encoded. As a matter of the semantics of the slurring term, an utterance of

[2] He is a faggot

does not simply ascribe a property to the target, here, that of being gay.  It classifies the target in a way that aims to be identifying. In calling someone “faggot”, the homophobe takes a property that he believes someone to possess and semantically encodes that it is the, or a, defining feature of the target’s identity.  As such, it is used to shape the target’s social identity, and so to dictate how others ought to treat, regard, think of, and respond to its target. As a matter of their semantics, “Kike”, “Chink”, Nigger”, “faggot”, “whore” are used so as to signal that being Jewish, Chinese, black, gay, a prostitute identify what its targets are.

The classification of the target in a way that aims to be identifying should not be conflated with any notions of metaphysical identity or essentialism.  In wielding slurs, racists, anti-Semites, and homophobes are not in the business of presenting their target’s group membership either as an essential, metaphysically necessary property, or as determining or explaining their other properties.   Rather, they express that the target’s group membership is the, or among the, most central characteristic(s) for classifying what the target is, as a person, construed along a broadly moral dimension.

Notice that the identifying component is dependent upon the expressive component because the identifying component partially captures what it is to regard someone with contempt.  That is, it follows from what it is to find someone contemptible on the basis of being gay that one takes that person’s sexual orientation as the most or among the most central aspects of that person’s identity. This dependence is, at heart, moral-psychological, but is manifest in the semantics. A speaker who expresses contempt toward her target for being G thereby also expresses and implicitly represents G as fundamental to her target’s identity as a person.  Thus, within a single speech act, the speaker expresses both her contempt and way of identifying the target as a person.

Together, the expressive and identifying components explain slurs’ common and conventional capacity to derogate. As a matter of their semantics, slurs function to express the speaker’s contempt for his target in virtue of the target’s group-membership and that his target ought to be treated with contempt in virtue of that group-membership, because what the target is, as a person, is something lesser, something unworthy of equal or full respect or consideration. In this way, slurs, as a class, conventionally function to dehumanize.