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Busting the Ghost of Neutral Counterparts

Philosophers have nearly universally assumed that some highly general semantic relationship obtains between slurs and so-called “neutral counterpart” terms. This assumption has been fleshed out in different ways. On all extant accounts, however, it implies an unmotivated distinction between paradigmatic slur/“neutral counterpart” pairs and many pairs that theorists haven’t considered, including `chick flick’/`romantic comedy’, `stoner’/`cannabis user’, and `liberal’/`libtard’. For pairs like these, the most intuitive theory of the target relationship involves overlap––both in (presumed) extension and associated stereotypes. Since (I argue) we have no good reason to distinguish pairs like `chick flick'/`romantic comedy’ from paradigmatic slur/“neutral counterpart” pairs, we have good reason to accept an overlap thesis about those pairs, too. An overlap thesis can accommodate the intuitions behind more orthodox views of slurs. It also paves the way for a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanisms of ordinary bigotry.

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