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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 35, 2019

Health, Well-Being, and Society

Emily Mathias
Pages 129-142
DOI: 10.5840/socphiltoday2019102165

Groundwork for the Moral Evaluation of Speech Acts

The childhood platitude, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” has become nothing more than wishful thinking as we prepare each new generation for the slew of hurtful words they will inevitably encounter throughout their life. The truth of the matter is, words can hurt. To discuss how this is possible, a recent surge in philosophy of language literature has had the sole focus of analyzing pejorative language, particularly slurs. From semantic content theories to deflationary accounts, there have been numerous attempts to answer the questions “How can words hurt?” and “Why do some words hurt?” Unfortunately, in the current discourse, the focus has been so heavily on accounting for the features of derogatory words that the accounts skip over providing for even the most basic insult, as an indirect speech act. Using an analysis of insults, I argue that there is a layer of analysis prior to any semantic content that theories regarding speech acts should include and and I present a framework for an ethicist to do such an analysis.

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