The 10th NOMOS Network meeting took place at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on 28 and 29 September 2015. The meeting focused on Kasper Lipper-Rasmussen’s book Born Free and Equal (OUP). Teresa presented her “Pejoratives & Oughts” paper.
It is prima facie plausible to think of pejoratives and slurs as a way to use language to discriminate against particular groups of people – those that the slurs and pejoratives refer to. This paper has two related goals. First, it uses pejorative discourse to illustrate Lippert-Rasmussen’s account of the discrimination of socially salient groups. Secondly, it assesses a theory of pejorative discourse, Hom & May’s, in particular their claim that pejoratives express complex socially constructed, negative properties determined in virtue of standing in causal external relations to racist institutions. They claim that pejoratives have null extensions, like fictional terms, and that uses of pejoratives are false. I argue that a canonical semantic account of deontic modals, together with the postulated causal external relation to social structures and ideologies, entails that pejoratives don’t have null extensions. Moreover, even if they had null extensions and declarative sentences containing them were false, the resulting view of how pejoratives discriminate should be assessed against Lippert-Rasmussen’s objection to objective meaning and mental state accounts of the wrongfulness of discrimination.