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Generic speech acts and social kinds

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Generics are a primitive default mode of generalizing: ‘Tigers have stripes’, ‘Birds fly’, ‘Mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus’. They pick up on significant or striking properties, and link them to a psychologically salient kind. Current work in psychology reveals their role in ‘essentialist’ thinking about natural and social kinds. I want to focus on their social role – e.g. ‘Women can’t do science’, ‘Hispanics are lazy’ – connecting this with their force when used in illocutionary speech acts. In the social domain generic speech acts can be powerful tools for the expression and creation of social norms, group prejudice, stereotyping, and hate speech. Their subtle workings make them hard to notice, and hard to fight. This talk will identify some problems, but thoughts about remedies will be welcome.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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