The Language of Mental Illness

In Justin Khoo & Rachel Katharine Sterken (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Social and Political Philosophy of Language. Routledge (forthcoming)
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Abstract

This paper surveys some philosophical issues with the language surrounding mental illness, but is especially focused on pejoratives relating to mental illness. I argue that though 'crazy' and similar mental illness-based epithets (MI-epithets) are not best understood as slurs, they do function to isolate, exclude, and marginalize members of the targeted group in ways similar to the harmfulness of slurs more generally. While they do not generally express the hate/contempt characteristic of weaponized uses of slurs, MI-epithets perpetuate epistemic injustice by portraying sufferers of mental illness as deserving minimal credibility. After outlining the ways in which these epithets can cause harm, I examine available legal and social remedies, and suggest that the best path going forward is to pursue a reclamation project rather than aiming to censure the use of MI-epithets.

Author's Profile

Renee Jorgensen
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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