The Inconsistency of the Identity Thesis

ProtoSociology 31:113-120 (2014)
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Abstract

In theorizing about racial pejoratives, an initially attractive view is that pejoratives have the same reference as their “neutral counterparts”. Call this the identity thesis. According to this thesis, the terms “kike” and “Jew”, for instance, pick out the same set of people. To be a Jew just is to be a kike, and so to make claims about Jews just is to make claims about kikes. In this way, the two words are synonymous, and so make the same contribution to the truth-conditions of sentences containing them. While the fundamental claim for the identity thesis that Jews are kikes sounds anti-semitic, it need not be actually anti-semitic. The identity thesis is usually bolstered with the further claim that the pejorative aspect of “kike” and other such terms is located elsewhere than in truth-conditional content, so what makes “kike” a bad word is a non-truth-conditional association with anti-semitism that is not shared with the word “Jew”. The exact nature and location of the negative moral content of pejoratives is a matter of some dispute among identity theorists. But whatever the intuitive appeal of the identity theory for those persuaded by such views, it is nevertheless inconsistent.

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Author Profiles

Robert May
University of California, Davis
Christopher Hom
Texas Tech University

Citations of this work

The Social Life of Slurs.Geoffrey Nunberg - 2018 - In Daniel Fogal, Daniel W. Harris & Matt Moss (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford University Press.
Moral and Semantic Innocence.Christopher Hom & Robert May - 2013 - Analytic Philosophy 54 (3):293-313.
Pejoratives as Fiction.Christopher Hom & Robert May - 2018 - In David Sosa (ed.), Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
What kind of a mistake is it to use a slur?Adam Sennet & David Copp - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (4):1079-1104.

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