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Philosophy and Gender (Level 7, 30 credits)


Module description

In the first part of the module, Words and Social Power, we discuss how using certain words is to the detriment of members of particular social groups. How should we think of language's workings in order to accommodate this? We will bring philosophy of language to bear on a range of questions about 'silenced' speakers, sexist language, 'slur words' and hate speech. We will then connect ideas of disempowered speech with ideas of injustice and look further at so-called speech act theory, and consider ways in which speech act notions have been introduced into a debate about pornography. Sexist language based on a close study of the various themes in Mercier's paper will then be considered.

We will discuss how we think about individual words that give offence, and what account a philosopher of language should give of such words. Questions about change of meaning and 'reclamation' will also be considered. We will then think about the bearing of the idea of speech acts as communicative on debates about free speech.

The second part of the module, Socialising Epistemology, discusses the following questions: How do relations of power and social identity relate to epistemic authority in discursive exchange? What are stereotypes, and are they necessarily bad? What is objectification, and under what circumstances is it ethically bad? How do relations of power and social identity influence our shared tools and habits for interpreting social experience? How may powerfulness relate to ignorance?

Recommended reading

  • Brison, S., 1998, 'The Autonomy Defense of Free Speech', Ethics, 108 (2) 312-39.
  • Cameron D. (ed.), 1998, The Feminist Critique of Language, 2nd edition (Routledge): editor's overall Introduction, and Introductions to each of the three parts.
  • Cameron, D., 1998, 'Feminist Linguistic Theories', in S. Jackson and J. Jones, Contemporary Feminist Theories (Edinburgh University Press), pp. 147-61.
  • Fricker, M., 2007, Epistemic Injustice (OUP).
  • Hornsby, J., 1995, 'Disempowered Speech', in Philosophical Topics, 23 (2): 127-47. (This issue of is called 'Feminist Perspectives on Language, Knowledge and Reality', ed. by Sally Haslanger.)
  • Mercier, A., 1995, 'A Perverse Case of the Contingent A Priori: On the Logic of Emasculating Language', Philosophical Topics, 23 (2): 221-59.
  • Nussbaum, M., 1999, Sex and Social Justice, especially essay 8 'Objectification'.
  • Saul, J. 2010, 'Feminism in Philosophy of Language' (follow the link to read this online).
  • Saul, J. 2003, 'Feminism and Language Change', Ch. 6 of Feminism: Issues and Arguments (Oxford: Oxford University Press).


  • Immoral Believing: Special Issue of Philosophical Papers [Vol. 33, No. 3 (Nov 2004)], especially Lawrence Blum, 'Stereotypes and Stereotyping: A Moral Analysis' and Lorraine Code, 'The Power of Ignorance'. [Available in Birkbeck library, and online through Senate House Library]
  • Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, eds. S. Sullivan  and N. Tuana (2007), especially Lorraine Code, 'The Power of Ignorance' and Linda Alcoff, 'Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types'.