Just Words: On Speech and Hidden Harm

ISBN : 9780192897398

Mary Kate McGowan
224 Pages
135 x 216 mm
Pub date
Mar 2021
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We all know that speech can be harmful. But what are these harms, and how exactly does the speech in question bring them about? Mary Kate McGowan identifies a previously overlooked mechanism by which speech constitutes, rather than merely causes, harm. She argues that speech constitutes harm when it enacts a norm that prescribes that harm. McGowan illustrates this theory by considering many categories of speech including sexist remarks, racist hate speech, pornography, verbal triggers for stereotype threat, micro-aggressions, political dog whistles, slam poetry, and even the hanging of posters. Just Words explores a variety of harms-such as oppression, subordination, discrimination, domination, harassment, and marginalization-and ways in which these harms can be remedied.


1 Preliminaries
2 Conversational Exercitives
3 On Differences Between Standard and Conversational Exercitives
4 The General Phenomenon: Covert Exercitives
5 Speech and Oppression
6 On Pornography: Subordination and Silencing
7 Race, Speech, and Free Speech Law

About the author: 

Mary Kate McGowan is the Margaret Clapp '30 Distinguished Alumna Professor of Philosophy at Wellesley College. She received her PhD from Princeton in 1996. She works in metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, and feminism. She is the co-editor, with Ishani Maitra, of Speech and Harm: Controversies Over Free Speech (Oxford 2009).

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