Volume 11, Issue 2, 2011
Special Session on Mark Richard’s When Truth Gives Out
Slurs & Thick Concepts-is the New Expressivism Tenable?
Mark Richard in his book offers a new and challenging expressivist theory of the use and semantics of slurs (pejoratives). The paper argues that in contrast, the central and standard uses of slurs are cognitive. It does so from the role of stereotypes in slurring, from fi gurative slurs and from the need for cognitive effort (or simple of knowledge of relevant presumed properties of the target). Since cognition has to do with truth and falsity, and since the cognitive task is a good indicator of semantic structure, it seems that the ascription of negative properties etc. indicates that they belong to the meaning of the slur, and that this meaning therefore confers truth-aptness. The (nasty) richness of meaning might vary with pejoratives: all of them involve “contemptible because G” at the very least. The most typical once carry more information. Some of it is given in the form of conceptual links roughly delineating the core stereotype associated with the pejorative, some in the form of fi gurative transfer of properties from some vehicle to the target member of G. So, slurs are not purely performative and expressive, but semantic in the
traditional, truth-directed sense. The truth-gap that might characterize the resulting sentences does not point to pejoratives not having ambition to say true and nasty things, but only to their failure in the attempt. The ambition defi nes the true-directed meanings of the assumptions, the failure just records that these assumptions are false about their targets. The paper leaves it open how central the truth-directed meanings are. The argument suggests that they are pretty central, either part of the core meaning, or of conventional implicature.