Generics, race, and social perspectives

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (9):1577-1612 (2023)
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The project of this paper is to deliver a semantics for a broad subset of bare plural generics about racial kinds, a class which I will dub 'Type C generics.' Examples include 'Blacks are criminal' and 'Muslims are terrorists.' Type C generics have two interesting features. First, they link racial kinds with ​ socially perspectival predicates ​ (SPPs). SPPs lead interpreters to treat the relationship between kinds and predicates in generic constructions as nomic or non-accidental. Moreover, in computing their content, interpreters must make implicit reference to socially privileged​ ​ perspectives which are treated as authoritative about whether a given object fits into the extension of the predicate. Such deference grants these authorities influence over both the conventional meaning of these terms and over the nature of the ​ objects ​ in the social ontology that these terms purport to describe, much the way a baseball umpire is authoritative over the meaning and metaphysics of 'strike'/​ strike ​. Second, terms like 'criminal' and 'terrorist' receive default ​ racialized ​ interpretations in which these terms conventionally token racial or ethnic identities. I show that neither of these features can be explained by Sarah-Jane Leslie's influential 'weak semantics' for generics, and show how my own 'socially perspectival semantics' fares better on both counts. Finally, I give an analysis of 'Blacks are criminal' which explores the semantic mechanisms that underlie default racialized interpretations.

Author's Profile

Patrick O'Donnell
Oakton Community College


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