Volume 14, Issue 2, 2014
The Geometry of Offense – Pejoratives and Conceptual Spaces
The meaning of pejoratives can be analyzed along several dimensions in the relevant conceptual space, of the kind put forward by Gärdenfors in his groundbreaking work. The first dimension has to do with neutral, non-evaluative sense: for a given class (group, social kind) K it delineates the basic causal-cum-descriptive components that determine the intended reference of the pejorative (say, the social kind “gays” for “faggot”). The second comprises the evaluative components ascribed to K, together with their associated descriptive bases. The third is a prescriptive one, suggesting how badly the target is to be treated. The fourth is expressive of speaker’s negative attitude towards members of K. The last three dimensions suggest that the concept associated with a pejorative is a thick concept, whose non-empty extension, is, however, determined by the first, neutral dimension. It also helps understand the dynamics of pejoratives, including the figurative origin and change of valence. The whole account treats pejoratives as negative social kind terms with a hybrid bases for reference (causal history plus a neutral description). The last section raises the general issue of realism in regard to conceptual spaces, and argues in favor of it, in a dialogue with Gärdenfors.