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St Cross Seminar: On Swearing

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Duration: 0:31:41 | Added: 23 Feb 2015
What, if anything, is wrong with swearing? And, what exactly are we doing when we try to swear inoffensively?

I begin by reflecting on why we swear, why it is widely deemed offensive, and some of the benefits of swearing. I then turn to the widespread practice of substituting asterisks for letters (and analogous spoken strategies) in an effort to swear without causing offence, and consider what could possibly explain how such a practice succeeds (if it does) in making swear words less offensive. I argue that – to the extent that swearing is offensive – there is no plausible philosophical story according to which this practice succeeds in rendering swearing inoffensive, and that some accounts of why swearing is offensive entail that asterisked swearing actually magnifies the badness of swearing. I conclude that, in so far as we are willing to view asterisked swearing as inoffensive, we should not be offended by swearing. (This talk will contain swearing. However, since the speaker hopes to convince you that swearing is less offensive than it is often taken to be, you should not let this dissuade you from coming along.)

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