What makes a word bad? Bad Words is a philosophical examination of slurs and other derogatory and problematic language, by some of the leading contributors to the field. Slurs are an interesting case for the philosophy of language. On the one hand, they seem to be meaningful in something like the way many other expressions are meaningful - different slurs might seem in some way to refer to different groups, for example. But on the other hand, it's clear that slurs
also have distinctive practical effects and roles: they can seem to be just an arbitrary tool for insulting or enabling harm. How are those aspects related? Just how the use of words is related to their significance is of course one of the deepest issues in philosophy of language: slurs not only
refine that issue, by presenting a kind of use that presents novel challenges, but also give the issue a compelling practical relevance.
The Engaging Philosophy series is a new forum for collective philosophical engagement with controversial issues in contemporary society.
David Sosa is Temple Centennial Professor in the Humanities at UT Austin. He has been at Austin since 1997, after spending two years on a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Before that, he completed his PhD at Princeton. Sosa serves as editor of the journal Analytic Philosophy, and he is co-editor of Philosophy of Language (Oxford, 6th edition), Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology (Wiley/Blackwell), and Analytic Philosophy: A Companion (Wiley/Blackwell).