In our world there is a notion of political correctness. There are some words which can be considered rude or abusive in themselves, regardless of the thought behind them. However, this seems awkward to me. Why should some words be prohibited? I say "There are no bad words. There are bad thoughts and bad people".

But what if it's not that simple as I think? Can a ban on certain words be justified rationally? What is an example of such justification if yes?

What I typically mean are profanities, however, several other words which are typically considered offensive (yet it does not mean they are always offensive) can be banned. In particular the ban on such words exists on SE (though I'm not sure if there is some kind of dictator on SE). Also, there are laws prohibiting some words publicly in some countries.

  • "Prohibited" in what sense? Do you mean illegal? Do you mean unacceptable socially? Should this be in the mainstream culture only (leaving them usable in some subcultures) or completely? Or do you want all of these answered? (I, personally, would not give the same answer to all of these subquestions.) Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 17:32
  • @DavidThornley, well, prohibited on various sites, such as SE, for example. Prohibited in political conversations. Maybe even illegal somewhere.
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 17:51
  • If we look at comunication we have: the intended meaning the sender is trying to comunicate, the expression that is used to communicate and the percieved meaning/intention of the sender by the reciever. It seems wrongheaded to try to ban a specific expression since the intention of the sender is not affected. This only leads to the sender trying to express his intention via other expressions. A telling example of this is the existance of "dog whistles". It also seems strange that one only tries to ban words leaving the option to use intonation or bodylanguage open.
    – CaZaNOx
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 18:43
  • What is justification? It implies law. You could argue from a utilitarian perspective that banning pejorative racial slurs saves more pain than use of those words does. From a linguists perspective I'm pretty sure killing words would be a crime. From a nihilists perspective.. ban it or don't, what difference does it make? Being in the middle.. I like pejorative words for the behaviour of people.. we don't have enough words like avaricious, braggardly or pious.. but racial pejoratives are the tools of bigots (another great pejorative)
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 22:56
  • @Richard, well, if I want to say that I don't like african race women (as sexual partners), I in any case must "black" or "negro" just because american citizenship is not the case. At least I don't see the reason of me not using these words. Hardly I'm racist only because I have my own aesthetical tastes. What are killing words? If you say you want someone to die, then you just express the thought. Whether or not desiring someone's death is bad is a matter of context. But when you just say such words to the void... what's the matter?
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 23:02

4 Answers 4


This seems analogous to the old:

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

Well, sure! I get it, guns themselves don't pull the trigger. If anyone is to blame, it's people. So, guns don't kill people (then again: bullets kill people ... or maybe vital organ failure kills people :) ).

But, it is also true that with guns, it is easier to kill people. Indeed, maybe we should say:

"Guns don't kill people. People with guns kill people."

That is, it is not as if guns have nothing to do with people getting killed. As such, having some kind of gun control might make sense, or at least can be argued for: if there are fewer guns, then there are fewer people with guns, and hence we'll have fewer people getting killed, so the argument goes.

Same as with words. You say:

"Words aren't bad. People and thoughts are bad"

but we could also say:

"Words aren't bad. People express and relate bad thoughts through words"

So again, words allow people to express their bad thoughts. And, some cognitive scientists might even argue that bad words enable bad thoughts. As such, a ban on certain words could be rationalized: fewer 'bad' words -> fewer bad thoughts being communicated -> happier world!

Now, you're right: banning bad words seems to be a rather indirect way to bad bad thoughts, just as controlling guns does not get at the root as to why people want to kill other people in the first place.

Also, a 'bad' word may not always be used in a 'bad' way. Here, for example, is a video that rightly pokes fun at the Facebook policy to reject any 'bad' images from its pages:


Banning 'bad' words would be equally clumsy ... but an argument can be made, yes.

  • Well, the last phrase makes sense. But personally I can't see how using a particular word necessarily imples that the thought it expresses is bad. So, calling some women sluts, because I don't like the way they act and don't want it to be so normal as it is, can be wrong?
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    @rus9384 It doesn't necessarily imply that, just as having a gun in your hand doesn't necessarily imply someone gets killed. The same gun can be used in good and bad ways, and the same is true for words. But ... one can still argue that fewer guns means fewer shooting, and fewer 'bad' words means fewer abuses.
    – Bram28
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 17:57
  • 1
    Personally I see that organized crime in countries where gun selling is illegal still has access to guns while innocent people do not. And, of course, some people actually are abusive in their speech. But one can be abusive by any words and even without them. Isn't it more rational to response to thoughts rather than words?
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 18:01
  • @rus9384 Of course. Intent matters. Think of the silliness of Facebook censoring paintings of Rubens just because it shows naked breasts. And I would say controlling guns is likewise an imperfect solution to the violent behavior of humans .. it would be better if we could somehow make people not want to kill each other in the first place. That would seem to address the problem at its root. But, in the absence of that, maybe we can take away some of the tools, and thereby hamper the expression of the violence, whether it be guns or words, clumsy and indirect as it is.
    – Bram28
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 18:11
  • So, what you suggest is rule utiltarianism where it's stated that ban on various words is better than lack of it, if I understand you correctly. Well, this looks almost unique justification as the only else I can think about can be virtue ethics approach.
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 18:15

If the question is meant to address "political correctness" then I think it is improperly presented, and should be stood upon its head. In my experience, "political correctness" manifests as mandating referring expressions rather than banning some expressions which are nontheless freely used in some contexts and by some people. To be "correct", which means not to cause pain to someone, I must use "African-American" instead of "Negro" or its derivitives, or "people of colour" instead of "coloured people" ; "gay" instead of homosexual and its derivatives; "queer2" instead of old-fashioned "queer"; and a host of other imposed new rules of correct useage familiar to all. We also have the misapplication of "sex - gender" which is supposedly self-assigned, and so becomes an accident rather than essential quality such as age. I have seen name badges which read: "Hi my name is John, my preferred pronouns are She, Her and Hers". Are these impositions ethical? We don't know when our utterances may cause pain to someone, unless we utter something designed to cause pain. What is happening with respect to being "White" as "Whiteness" is seemingly becoming itself a pejorative term in some places. Being of a certain age, I am asked "How young are you?" which is meant to be less offensive than "how old?", "old" being a newly designated pejorative. Ethical? No. Any type of destruction of words and meanings is unethical bringing about entropy, disorganization in the lexicon and social confusion and disharmony, and an expression of would-be dominance in an Orwellian style. There should be no mandated word lists and no banned words; this is not to excuse people from polite discourse or from developing thicker skins when it comes to their own identities. I for one am not the least bothered by being labeled "stale, pale and male" although I would think my interlocutor has aggressive mental health issues.

  • References to others describing such situations may be valuable for the reader and strengthen your answer. Welcome to this SE! Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 23:48
  • Political correctness is a case of this, but bans on the words called expletives/profanities hardly are those, because they can be used without any offence and not refer to anyone or someone's actions. And still often they are limited in their use.
    – rus9384
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 0:14

Short answer: No, it can not be justified.

Otto Rank showed that human beings are naturally religious, so that ones complete set of believes (whether superstitious or not) form his religion. The problem is that governments still define secularism considering the literal superstitious defintion of religion. The absolute secularism would force them to be indifferent to the idea that a group exists within the whole, because this is a belief as well.

From a psychological point, calling terms with less tense words is a defense mechanism to relieve the guilt assiociated with the meaning of these terms. But why are words sources of guilt? The answer is that the majority define their concepts and ideals in a superficial way which leaves them exposed to the guilt of trivial matters.

"Philistines tranquilize themselves with the trivial" (Kierkegaard)

They use these trivial ideals to maintain their self-worth. Here, the ideal of being nice is superifically defined to include not saying or hearing words that were maybe used before as an insult, but they forget that these words can be used without a bad intention. We could apply this to friendship, the majority won't agree with Camus reply when asked about his relationship with Sartre: "The relationship is outstanding, monsieur, because the best relationships are those in which we do not see one other."

Instead, people get mad because their friends do not visit or text back.


Words are banned all the time.

Consider the kind of language you use around children, at home, with friends or at the office. Different contexts require different languages. This much is fairly obvious - what we don't notice is when language changes because certain words slip out of usage and others come in and this is because it is a slow process.

What we do notice is when words are proactively banned - like the use of 'nigga' or 'wog'. This has often called political correctness. Generally, people ask why can't intention or context be taken in? And that is a good point. Political correctness does have its bad side when intention or context is not taken into account, for example - someones character or temperament and the incident itself.

This is when one some people say language has become dictatorial. To which one might say, have you considered what life was like under Stalins Soviet Union when using the wrong language might get you thrown into prison, exiled or worse? The wrong words there of course had nothing of course to do with what we think of political correctness - that is gender, religion and race; but using the words that referred to the regimes real crimes - wiping out the political opposition and forced collectivisation & labour camps at enormous human cost.

In the context of race, one might say that political correctness is just a cheap way of changing custom and that it merely papers over the very real economic differences that grew out of mass slavery. For example, instead of political correctness, perhaps we ought to have real reparations?

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