Slurs as Ideology: A Defence of Prohibitionism
Pepa Mellema

part of: 26th Annual Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference
November 12, 2022, 9:30am - 10:30am
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Lecture Room
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford OX2 6GG
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • Aristotelian Society
  • Royal Institute of Philosophy
  • Analysis Trust
  • Faculty of Philosophy


Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University

Topic areas



Prohibitionism is the view that slurs are offensive because they are prohibited – not because they have special semantic or pragmatic properties. Despite its intuitive appeal, prohibitionism suffers from several well-known problems. Amongst other things, it can’t distinguish slurs from other taboo words like obscenities, or explain why we would ban slurs if they truly are neutral descriptors. To make matters worse, I also argue that prohibitionism conflates the psychological phenomenon of offence with the linguistic phenomenon derogation.

Here I nonetheless argue that prohibitionism is worth saving. I develop the suggestion that the label 'slur' itself is normatively loaded into a novel version of prohibitionism – so-called ideological prohibitionism. On my account, a pejorative is a slur only insofar it reliably communicates derogatory attitudes towards a socially protected group – and we condemn derogation towards this group on ideological grounds. Slurs are thus not simply descriptive words we ban – they are pejoratives we ban because they are problematic. I conclude that my account redeems prohibitonism’s good qualities without inheriting its defects.

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