Londoners and near-byers

Don’t forget this, people in London and vicinity – and Edinburgh and Stockholm if you’re up for making a trip at the last minute – Bernard Hurley’s talk on “How to Make Enemies and Alienate People – the Philosophy of Offensive and Inappropriate Language.”

It’s at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, NW1 2HR London.

The growth of social media has given an unprecedented opportunity for those who wish to gratuitously offend to actually do so but it has also given an opportunity for those who wish to take offence at mere criticism to express such offence. It’s clear that someone who uses offensive language is doing more than just conveying information, but what exactly are they doing? The job of the philosopher is to clarify, rather than to prescribe and it seems to me that there is urgent need for clarification today. However there has been very little discussion about how offensive language fits into the Philosophy of Language. Drawing on some ideas of Michael Dummett, I shall make some suggestion about how such language might work.

This lecture is part of the 2014 Kant’s Cave Lecture series. As is usual at these lectures there will be plenty of time for discussion afterwards.

I wish I were in London right now so that I could go.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Let me fix that for you: Hellfire, I fucking wish I were in bloody London so I could goddamn go.

  2. eveningperson says

    I heard about this through your blog, thanks Ophelia. I live much too far away to just pop into London for the evening, but on this occasion I was in town so was fortunate to be able to go at short notice. I thought I recognised the name – it turns out that Bernard Hurley was a near-contemporary of mine when I was an undergraduate at Oxford; he was apparently active in the anti-racist movement at the time and I think we may have both been in the Humanist Group.

    I didn’t have the wherewithal to take notes at the time, so maybe I’ve remembered the terminology wrong, but the terms ‘logica docens’ and ‘logica utens’ (as used by Pierce) were new to me. ‘Logica utens’ makes sense to me, as I am always observing the sorts of ways in which people take short cuts to arriving at conclusions. However, I did not go along with everything Bernard seemed to be saying. This seemed to include that people learn prejudices from the forms of words that others (such as parents) use, without knowing anything about the meaning of those words, so, for example, children will pick up prejudices about ‘Pakis’ from their parents’ statements without even knowing what ‘Pakis’ are or do. (My apologies to Bernard if I understood this wrong.)
    It seems to me, contrary to this, that ‘logica utens’ is different from formal logic in that it is always, and often heavily, dependent on the content of the expressions used, and in different ways depending on the desires and emotional attitudes of the user.
    In this context, Bernard talked about some sorts of inclusion rules and exclusion rules, but this seemed to me decidedly ad hoc, a bit like overfitting a data set.
    Other aspects of hate speech were covered briefly in the form of questions directed at the audience. I was interested to note his point about taking offence being used as an opportunity to censor unwanted ideas. I would say that taking offence goes much further than this – it is used as a means of attempting to retain or extend control over speech, behaviour, and public life, and I see this in the antics of (say) the christians who claim discrimination because employment or hygiene rules prevent the wearing of pendant crosses or proselytising at work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *