Date of Award

May 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Peter van Elswyk

Committee Members

William Bristow, Joshua Spencer


Ideology, Philosophy of Language, Pragmatics, Semantics, Slurs


Speaker-orientation views (Hom 2008; Neufeld 2019; Camp 2013; Anderson and Lepore 2013; Williamson 2009; Jeshion 2013; Bolinger 2017) explain why slurs are offensive in terms of what slurs reveal about the general point of view of their speakers. Directive theories (Kirk-Giannini 2019) explain slurs are offensive by predicting that slurs issue directives that direct others to adopt their speaker’s point of view. As Kirk-Giannini (2019) notes, speaker-orientation views face the problem of old news. Slurs can communicate novel offensive content even after a speaker’s general point of view is known. Directive theories, meanwhile, face a novel problem I dub the directive problem. Contrary to what such theories predict, the felicity of a slur does not rest on the felicity of its associated directive. There is thus need for a novel theory of slurs, one which solves both problems. This paper proposes a theory that does that. Slurs communicate ideological verdicts: they represent that disrespectful, ideological practices apply to their targets and reveal the ideological formation their speaker is a part of. Slurs therefore neither issue directives (hence the solution to the directive problem) nor just reveal a general point of view (hence the solution to the problem of old news); rather, they apply that point of view in a context—much like a judge might apply a legal doctrine to a specific case.

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