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“Essentializing Language and the Prospects for Ameliorative Projects” by Katherine Ritchie, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center and at City College of New York.

Some language encourages essentialist thinking. For instance, research shows that generics can promote the view that kinds share persistent and explanatory underlying features. Essentializing language goes beyond generics. There is evidence that nouns as a category are poised to refer to kinds and to promote essentializing. To justify the view Ritchie will consider predicate nominals (e.g., ‘is a female’) and predicate adjectives (e.g., ‘is female’). Ritchie will show that predicate nominals elicit essentializing inferential judgments, while their adjectival correlates do not. Ritchei then argues that our propensity to essentialize when nouns are used reveals a limitation for ameliorative projects — undertakings in conceptual engineering aimed at revising our conceptual and linguistic resources. Ameliorated nouns (and their conceptual correlates) can continue to underpin essentializing inferences. Given the way language and cognition function, ameliorative projects can fail to meet core social and political ends in virtue of failing to consider the vehicles of representation.

A Gail Stine Lecture Series event.

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  • Sue Feng
  • Anh Pham

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