Contextualism and the Semantics of "Woman"

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7 (2020)
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Contextualist accounts of “woman,” including Saul (2012), Diaz-Leon (2016), and Ichikawa (2020), aim to capture the variability of the meaning of the term, and do justice to the rights of trans women. I argue that (i) there is an internal tension between a contextualist stance and the commitment to trans-inclusive language, and that (ii) we should recognize and tackle the broader and deeper theoretical and practical difficulties implicit in the semantic debates, rather than collapsing them all into semantics. Moving on, I sketch three strategies to help us advance feminist philosophical endeavors, including how attending to contextual matters can lead us to further reflect on the meta-contextual, such as our role in shaping contexts and whether the working of language is indicative of a larger oppressive social structure.

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Hsiang-Yun Chen
Academia Sinica


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