4

This is a vague question as stated, and I'm afraid I can only narrow it down by throwing together what I think are related ideas: that there may be a differential use of "f*** you" in a particular conversation against someone in one of a couple cases. There are, first, clearly invalid uses, such as attempts to silence an opponent or just in the manner of standard ad hominem attacks, but then there's other cases where I might be tempted to think an f-bomb both appropriate and justified, such as

  1. Expressing serious offense at a statement; a speech-act, rather than an argument
  2. Declaring the statement previously used as out-of-bounds or outrageous within the context of the given discussion (whether correctly or not).

    a. Outrageous in a sense that you need to forcefully convey that the previous statement would set your opponent outside of the acceptable discourse (claiming, for instance, that phrenology is a valid reason to infer racial superiority), or

    b. Outrageous in a sense that you wish to recognize (or allow) that the previous statement was intended to be sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, to convey the opposite point.

Now I've no reservations that it's unethical to use pejoratives and expletives to denounce an opponent to her or his face, for no reason than to demean or silence them. Yet some people, from personal experience, appear to regard the use of expletives as an act akin to violence. This make the question ethically relevant: if it can be argued that pejorative expletives are useful in cases like (1) or (2) above, then is it more important to respect the potential sensibilities of your opponent (assuming they're unknown) and how they might take a statement, or is it more important to regard conversations as holding in good faith only if they allow any free communication which may be useful to an argument?

** If I haven't been clear, here's a short and excellent summation of all the valid uses I have in mind (nsfw).

  • Worked for Clarence Thomas. Most effective use of the n-word in history. – user4894 Aug 2 '14 at 18:11
  • 6
    The only appropriate answer to this question is fuck yes. – David H Aug 2 '14 at 18:31
  • @DavidH the best comment I've seen on SE... – user132181 Aug 2 '14 at 21:36
  • Isn't this a sociological or etiquette question? I don't see it as a philosophical one – This lad Aug 7 '14 at 18:26
  • @Matt Normally, as Kingsbery points out below, "if your ultimate goal is to convince your opponent to change his or her mind, then you must start by respecting your opponent." Insofar as reasonable disagreement goes, that's obviously true - what I'd hoped to find was a clue to any solutions for unreasonable disagreement. In politics, a state of war calls for the suspension of certain moral constraints against violence; in a like manner, is there a particular kind of disagreement that might call for the suspension of politeness and etiquette? – Ryder Aug 8 '14 at 9:21
5

Some points:

Universality: We shouldn't assume that expletives all match English usage. Taking Catullus as an example, that curses in Latin often were not merely shocking as they are in English, they were often degrading and involved accusing the other party of being less than others.

Effectiveness: Have you ever seen an argument won this way?

  1. I believe that X is true.

  2. I believe that X is not true.

  3. F--- you!

  4. Oh, well, I didn't think about it that way...

I never have, and it's largely inconceivable to imagine anyone changing their mind because they've been cursed at.

But, let's take it a step further. Russ Roberts makes a point that I think many of us have experienced. Consider again the argument:

  1. I believe that X is true.

  2. I believe that X is not true.

At this point, experience shows that the conversation no longer can be constructive. Both sides are dug in. Either side can try to be pleasant, or curse, or whatever they would like, but this does not seem a useful way of changing people's minds. Roberts's experience matches my own: much more useful instead of cursing at someone, or expressing offense and shock, or even mild disagreement, is to appreciate the person you are conversing with and making a genuine effort to try to understand how they came to the ideas they have.

So, I would conclude:

  • if it can be argued that pejorative expletives are useful in cases like (1) or (2) above: it seems from the above that they cannot be useful in any case.

  • is it more important to respect the potential sensibilities of your opponent...: if your ultimate goal is to convince your opponent to change his or her mind, then you must start by respecting your opponent. In general, you must acknowledge an unequal battleground. Putting forward every generally useful argument is not helpful, since your opponent has limited time and attention. Instead, as Roberts discusses, we should seek to convince by asking questions, understanding assumptions, and planting a seed of doubt.

-1

If you are having a public discussion, you gain nothing by using inappropriate, vulgar, pejorative language. All you would be doing is letting others know your frustration, emotion, anger, etc.. Obviously, if that is the character/reputation you are striving for, then it would be appropriate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.