Why Misogynistic Language Matters

In response to the vileness of Rush Limbaugh giving Physicalist pause about whether to consume any right wing media (even out of concern for rational fairness), Bret asks:

I’m curious: do you see how conservatives verbally address women as more offensive than their stance on pretty much anything else, from their treatment of the poor in this country to the violent stance they take towards people in other countries?

I don’t like seeing women called names, but in perspective… it’s one of the more harmless things about conservatives. I’m more offended that they want to limit a woman’s access to birth control than that they call women who use birth control “sluts.”

Am I alone on this one, or are liberals just hyper-sensitive to language as a result of the whole culture of political correctness?

While surely we should find policies that are needlessly and unjustly physically deadly or otherwise tangibly destructive abhorrent, that does not lessen the seriousness of intrinsic harms against persons and their dignity. Degrading treatment is wrong as an inherent disrespect if nothing else and it is inherently offensive. Limbaugh’s attacks are on women’s basic personhood, basic rights of citizenship, autonomy, dignity, respect as sexual agents and full moral people. They’re unjustified and malicious lies and slanders of character. They are disgraceful attempts to shame women over justifiable sex. They are dishonest attempts to mischaracterize important points in debate. They express negligently callous willful refusal to understand the important truths about women’s health. They perpetuate double standard attitudes about sexual ethics and rape, the practice of slut shaming, and obnoxiously hypocritical prurient patriarchal sexual prudery. They are also bullying acts by which a man of great resources and power bullies a vulnerable woman much younger and in a much more tenuous career situation by trashing her reputation for daring to speak out about health consequences of legislation that profoundly affected someone in similar shoes to her own.

All of this makes Limbaugh’s actions intrinsically repugnant and worthy of unequivocal, thorough moral denunciation, even if it has no further consequence whatsoever. This is not “hypersensitivity”, it’s proper sensitivity to appallingly abusive verbal treatment.

And usually wrongness of these kinds (and certainly in this case) is compounded with intricate links to ideas and institutions that it represents and perpetuates. Such systematically degrading language and concepts find “real world” forms in (or emerge in the first place in tandem with) systemic biases in institutions and in individual decisions. In other words, sometimes abusive language expresses abusive concepts coded into people by abusive institutions. Sometimes the language codes the ideas that code the institutions to be abusive in the first place. Typically it’s all a self reinforcing feedback loop of oppression or repression and disenfranchisement.

Language matters. Ideas are contained in language. Ideas create institutions and institutions create ideas and language. They’re a knot. You can’t untie any two parts without untying all three.

Your Thoughts?


There are some excellent replies in the comments section, so be sure to check them out. And there was also one comment that necessitated I write my next post, No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

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”


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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"The History of Philosophy" and "Philosophy and Suicide"
Men Apologizing For "Having Abortions"
A Directory of Philosophers From Underrepresented Groups
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.