What are the debates on same-sex marriage and on the recognition of transwomen as women about? On anti-descriptivism and revisionary analysis

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In recent years, debates on same-sex marriage and the recognition of transwomen as women have been raging. These debates often seem to revolve around the meaning of, respectively, the word ‘marriage’ and ‘woman’. That such debates should take place might be puzzling. It seems that if debates on gay and transgender rights revolve around the meaning of these words, then those in favor of same-sex marriage and of the recognition of transwomen as women have no room left to maneuver. However, prima facie, the pro – and anti-, in both cases, have genuine disagreements over the meaning of these words: though the analyses of revisionary theorists are revisionary, they are analyses. Sally Haslanger and other philosophers in her wake have appealed to an anti-descriptivist externalist view of meaning to provide the conceptual foundations of this practice of revisionary theorizing: revisionary analyses bring to light what, unbeknownst to us, these words mean. In this paper, I argue that a descriptivist externalist view should be preferred instead. My argument rests on the thesis that what is contested in these debates is the (descriptive) meaning of the words ‘marriage’ and ‘women’ as used in the law.
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Archival date: 2020-10-14
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