No, You Can't Call People Sluts.

Ever since Rush Limbaugh tried to slut-shame a law student for testifying at a forum hosted by Congressional Democrats about the medical needs that contraception serves, I had wanted to go through all Limbaugh’s remarks and detail the millions of ways they were awful for the morally obtuse. But I kept thinking, no, it’s just too obvious. But then today I had to reply when Bret wondered whether Limbaugh’s remarks were really such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, when compared to the worse tangible consequences of right wing policies. Now, I have someone going beyond just trying to minimize the seriousness of Limbaugh’s sleaziness to actually defending it as legitimate. Here is Verbose Stoic:

Question: So if I wanted to make a derisive comment about the promiscuity of a woman, perhaps as a general statement of my distaste for what I might consider excessive emphasis on sex, what word should I use?

Note that you can’t say that I shouldn’t make derisive comments, because that would take all insults out of play and so would go far beyond misogynistic language. And you can’t say that I shouldn’t consider promiscuity something to be derisive about or find distasteful, because that would indeed be imposing ideas on me, and in fact doing so very, very specifically. So, then, what should I do?

This is the same sort of problem I have with the arguments against supposed insults that are gendered: if I want to insult a woman, why can’t I call her the term for a female dog? It’s a valid insult in my culture, just like the term for a man born out of wedlock is.

Now, using it out of those contexts may be more problematic, I agree, but I read about this case and thought that this one was certainly borderline because promiscuity was, in fact, the point. Again, putting aside any idea that insulting is itself wrong, what insulting term should he have used?

Derisive words are only for things which are properly derided. And even then we should be pretty temperate in how we use them so as not to be abusive to others.

In no way, shape, or form do I take promiscuity to be, in itself, an immoral thing. So, no, I don’t think there is any word that you can use that I would find morally acceptable. You call that controlling your thought by not allowing you whatever insult you want? Sorry, that’s morality. It controls some things. You don’t want to be subject to my moral standards? Well, I don’t want consensual, responsible, promiscuous people who do not harm anyone to be subject to yours. I have a lot of good moral reasons to think they don’t deserve derision and that such treatment of yours towards them is unfair and worth calling out. So I’m not allowing that any abusive word aimed at men or women over their promiscuity is copacetic. I don’t have to acknowledge your moral right to use insults to bully people who are not doing anything morally wrong. Legally, you may say whatever you want that does not cross the line into actionable harassment, threats, or libel, etc. But morally if I allow you to call people sluts as perfectly acceptable, then I’m approving your value judgment as perfectly acceptable. You’re entitled morally to argue for the wrongness of promiscuity if you like.

Your “distaste” is not an argument and nor is it a justification for dictating to others or for denigrating them. And it is something I can argue you should change. We can criticize each other’s moral feelings when they are unjustifiable. And this goes for their tastes too. And I can certainly balk without fear of “imposing” when you cross the line from merely having an unjustified “distaste” to the point of insults used to morally bully and shame and marginalize and degrade people over consensual, responsible, harm-free, autonomous sex between equals. To allow you to get away with that out of a milquetoast fear of moral impositions would be to tacitly accept your repugnant values and, much worse, to endorse your use of them to manipulate and control other people to their detriment. I’m not laying down my arms in the struggle over values so easily. Thanks, but no thanks.

Use the word slut and you’ve tried to bully others into adopting your values or submitting to them. Don’t (with unbelievable hypocrisy) hide behind some supposed right not to have others’ values imposed upon you. I have every moral right to use accurate and justifiable moral descriptors to express precisely why you are wrong and why your character is dubious. And I can also explain why your word is out of bounds for both its unmerited, intrinsically insulting character, and for the ways it participates in and perpetuates corrupt conceptions of morality and other unjust systems of social control.

Your Thoughts?

The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

 

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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