Essentializing Language and the Prospects for Ameliorative Projects

Ethics 131 (3):460-488 (2021)
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Some language encourages essentialist thinking. While philosophers have largely focused on generics and essentialism, I argue that nouns as a category are poised to refer to kinds and to promote representational essentializing. Our psychological propensity to essentialize when nouns are used reveals a limitation for anti-essentialist ameliorative projects. Even ameliorated nouns can continue to underpin essentialist thinking. I conclude by arguing that representational essentialism does not doom anti-essentialist ameliorative projects. Rather it reveals that would-be ameliorators ought to attend to the propensities for our representational devices to essentialize and to the complex relationship between essentialism and prejudice.

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Katherine Ritchie
University of California, Irvine


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