This relatively short book has a powerful message. It identifies an overlooked way in which ordinary speech by ordinary speakers under ordinary circumstances constitutes harm in virtue of enacting harmful norms. Mary Kate McGowan starts the book with the following examples to illustrate. An offhand sexist remark about sexual conquests at work oppresses women without the speaker intending to oppress and without their awareness of doing so. A white man’s racist invective directed at an African American passenger on a bus should not count as protected speech expressing a political viewpoint, but a regulable discriminatory act. Hanging a sexually explicit poster in one’s locker can subordinate even if one has no communicative intentions whatsoever and means nothing by hanging the poster. Although the literature on speech and harm recognizes that oppression can be caused by authoritative speech (just think of a legislator enacting discriminatory...
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Book Review| July 01 2021
Just Words: On Speech and Hidden Harm
McGowan, Mary Kate,
Just Words: On Speech and Hidden Harm.
Oxford University Press,
The Philosophical Review (2021) 130 (3): 463–467.
Mari Mikkola; Just Words: On Speech and Hidden Harm. The Philosophical Review 1 July 2021; 130 (3): 463–467. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00318108-8998890
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