Yes, I am aware of the insanity in the question. However, that is precisely why I am asking. The insanity stems from the popular idea, especially amongst academics or the type of people you might find on this site, that political correctness is overall harmful because it compels speech, such as on US college campuses (which are institutions and places, of all places, meant to explore ideas freely and need almost complete free speech) and harms free thinking in society.

I do not where I read (or heard) it, however some living person in the field of philosophy or psychology made some brief, side comment defending political correctness and it's utility. In fact, they even mentioned a philosopher from the past whose ideas aligned with political correctness (trust me, I too am not happy with the amount that I remember >:( )

At a very superficial level (such as the first paragraph on Wikipedia), political correctness seems beneficial to the discourse of ideas because clearly it is to make things more inclusive, and protect those who are implicitly oppressed on a day-to-day basis by making such acts explicit (either by awareness of the concept, or calling out, or legitimate policy changes [1, 2]). Is that not great?

Also, there is some fallacy or adage that one should attack what the opponent means, not what they literally said or could mean (again, can not find this either..) which I think is extremely relevant to political correctness. More often than not, people do not mean the things that others find offensive. With that being said, by attacking what one literally says or could mean, is that not more logical and rational? That way, for example, definition creep (similar to mission creep, but only for singular words) does not occur. Furthermore, people would be very direct and concise in what they say (ie, they would mean what they say and not be cryptic).

Lastly, for whatever reason and however irrelevant, I am viscerally reminded of this particular image and how perhaps political correctness is a symptom of the middle stage.

Okay, to summarize the point of my scattered thoughts and to arrive at the gist of my question(s):

  • Is political correctness a result of a society that values (thinks and acts in accordance to) reason?
  • What are the benefits of political correctness in regards to thinking freely and/or logically? (Are the benefits I mention in the fourth paragraph legitimate ways of increasing logic/reason in thought and discourse?)
  • Is there really a philosophy/philosopher whose ideas align with political correctness being good or bad? (or perhaps any concepts circulating the practice of journalism or news?)
  • 2
    Is the question about rationality of political correctness? It is hard to understand what "more rational society is" and what is the "insanity in the question"? The first three paragraphs seem to be arguing some point but again, what the point is is very murky. "Philosopher/philosophies that expand on this", what is "this"?
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 8:52
  • 1
    I am afraid that you will find the situation on this site, and, I fear, among academics (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) generally, quite the opposite of the assumptions you made in your first paragraph. It seems to me that amongst those who frequent this site (ostensible academics and amateur philosophers) political correctness is the norm. For instance have a look at this post: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/39414/….
    – gonzo
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 14:58
  • 1
    Not deleted, but closed. Note that despite its perspicacity, your post has already received one down vote. I shall up vote it, to get you back to 0.
    – gonzo
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 16:45
  • 1
    You say in your 4th paragraph that "...there is some fallacy or adage that one should attack what the opponent means, not what they literally said or could mean... which I think is extremely relevant to political correctness." It is. What you are describing is or is akin to the straw man argument, sometimes thought of as an informal fallacy. see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_. Compare it to the more noble and honest steel man tactic: lifehacker.com/…, which also involves what one "means."
    – gonzo
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 17:05
  • 1
    @PaulRoss: Academic work on political correctness would be the purview of social scientists, not philosophers. The philosophical roots of political correctness, by contrast, are fairly deep. Commented May 11, 2020 at 15:53

4 Answers 4


I will try to be brief, on concern that this question will ultimately be closed, though that is going to prove difficult...

'Political correctness,' as the term is commonly used, is a practical, real-world implementation of some fairly esoteric philosophy. Unfortunately, all practical implementations of philosophy are given to misuse, incoherence, conflation with other real-world interests, and strong tendencies towards dogmatism. It's just a fact: people attach to ideals the like even when they fail to understand the depths of the ideal, and the results are often less than perfect.

C'est la vie...

The idea behind 'political correctness' is pervasive in social and critical theory, going back at least to late Existentialism — 1940s and 50s — and expanding dramatically through the 70s. In short, it starts with the recognition that all of our modern language in the West (both common and philosophical usage) is infused with the structures of Colonialism: the superiority of white European males and the inferiority and 'exoticness' of women and 'foreign peoples'; a fetishistic devotion to the principles of capitalism; an invidious classism... It's not that people go out of their way to invoke such language intentionally, but more that people are blind to such usages because they are so familiar with them. Think about the classic feminist observation that women are socially forced to reveal their marital status because they must refer to themselves as 'miss' or 'missus', while men are always an ambiguous 'mister'; think about the complaint deep South whites frequently made that the N-word wasn't meant to be offensive, but was merely the word they and their culture used to refer to black people. All of this understated language use comes straight out of a long history of oppression and dehumanization, and every use of it subtly reinforces that history.

Now, one critical/social theory approach to this problem was consciousness-raising: getting people to realize the ways in which their mere language use becomes a tool for subtle domination. This means calling out people on their more problematic language fumbles. Thus someone who makes a stereotyped comment about (say) blacks and watermelons might not realize that they are making a reference to the post Civil War period when newly freed blacks were forced into difficult tenant farming situations where watermelons were one of the few cash-crops they could raise, and that the stereotype invokes some painful history. The hope, of course, is that people will realize that their language-use is treading on other people's toes, and thus — social creatures that we are — people will back off such language for the sake of harmony, and gradually weed that Colonial mindset out of society. That is clearly rational in structure and intent, though it might be accused of naïveté.

Of course, this critical, consciousness-raising approach might have a sound core, but it collapses at the edges. Some on the Left use this mindset as a tool for attacking disliked groups; some otherwise neutral corporations invoke strict PC standards as an anti-lawsuit tactic, or as a form of social control; some on the Right have learned to intentionally commit linguistic attacks of these sort (turning the unconscious productions of people trapped in language into a conscious abuse of language to assert power). Each case is actively consciousness-lowering, in that it seeks to reify language above meaning, and to sow dissent rather than encourage reflection. 'Political correctness,' as often as not, has become a reference to these collapsed edges, where people stop trying to negotiate the boundaries of civil language and start using language as a means of dominance.

The critical-theoretical idea behind political correctness is valid and sound; the implementation often leaves a lot to be desired.

  • This is all very nicely put @Ted Wrigley, I even concur with most of the plethora of impeccably well intentioned assumptions and presuppositions you put forth. However, listen closely to this argument between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein: youtube.com/watch?v=i-VF4KCylKI. cont...
    – gonzo
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:49
  • Both are card carrying "progressives", smart, articulate, and ostensibly asserting their positions in good faith. Accordingly, I have never encountered a better articulation of the ineradicable gist, As Shakespeare says, there's the rub. While your responses here and in the politics stack make clear where your inclinations and alliances are, II would love to here your take on the discussion.
    – gonzo
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:49
  • Also, if you feel so inclined, have a look at my post here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/72876/…; which aroused the ire of a couple of members, one of which to such an extent that he may even have as a result actually been suspended from the site for a year. Of course I am assuming that the suspension was related, it may have pertained to some unrelated matter. And the person, though brilliant, was somewhat of a hot head in his previous incarnation on this site anyway.
    – gonzo
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 19:02
  • @gonzo: Tread a little carefully, please... If you want to debate with me, you should debate with me, not with the image of me you've built up in your head. I'm a philosopher, not an ideologue; they are like water and ice. I'll go through the links you provided, at least as much as I can stomach of the first (Harris is a bit dogmatic for my tastes). We'll see... Commented May 12, 2020 at 15:29
  • 1
    We are in solidarity vis felines. That aside, Harris was ignoring no such basis for a difference. His point is that unless one acknowledges and confronts uncomfortable data points one will inevitably be "ambushed by the data." And my concern is that we intentionally or unconsciously ignore such data at our peril. Potentially leaving us unable to solve otherwise addressable quandaries.
    – gonzo
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 3:01

I say no. Political correctness stems from cowardice. I can be politically correct all day in public with my words and be totally racists and mean and nasty by my actions. Political correctness falls squarely into Orwellian doublespeak. A politician could easily use every politically correct term to describe all of the "undesirables" his policy will now be persecuting. A man named Frank Lutz coined "climate change" amongst others. I find this kind of thing to be like changing "gang rape" to "team building exercises " just to avoid triggering someone. While the latter may be true, it nullifies the horrors of the former. Therefore, political correctness undermines the information necessary to have "rational society". Think " Inglorious basterds " and the carving of the swastika into the foreheads of Nazis. While the act and evidence may be pretty horrible, what it tells us about the person with this mark is far more important by letting us know it was THAT person was part of. Mark Fuhrman is a perfect example. With his failure to be politically correct showing that he was a liar and a racist who handled the blood evidence during the O.J. Simpson trial. He was accused of using blood drawn from O.J. after his arrest to plant evidence at the crime scene. He committed perjury and that got him hired by fox news as a crime scene analyst. Yikes.... I'd better leave it there. This subject is rather upsetting as i consider the stupidity of political correctness to be incredibly obvious. To me it is a synonym for big fat liar. The first word is "political "after all.

  • "A man named Frank Lutz coined 'climate change' amongst others. I find this kind of thing to be like changing 'gang rape' to 'team building exercises'" What are you saying here? Climate change is like gang rape?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 5:41

I have no comment re your first two queries, but as to the last, “Is there really a philosophy/philosopher whose ideas align with political correctness being good or bad?, have a look at the Frankfort school and critical theory, which to some extent would seem to be the philosophical foundations of political correctness. See: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-theory/, https://www.iep.utm.edu/frankfur/


In the early 1990's, there were two socio-cultural movements that were "coming of age" on college campuses nationwide.....Democratic Multiculturalism and its more militant offshoot, Political Correctness.

The primary aim of Multiculturalism, was to introduce into curricula, a more diverse representation of ideas from an array of cultures throughout the globe. Multiculturalists were not merely satisfied with anecdotal discussions of diverse cultures. Many supported a real diversification and broadening of literatures, histories and ideas about the world and its myriad of peoples. The more we learned about humanity at large, the wiser we would become....this was the hope for Multicultural Education.

Multiculturalists would often support the juxtaposition of a curriculum which taught the value of Western thought and civilization, while also welcoming the study of historically underrepresented/sidelined cultures and civilizations. In doing so, the traditional Eurocentric approach would be pushed aside by a more encompassing and universalistic approach towards better understanding humankind's greater heritage.

Here are two contrasting examples of how a course on Ancient Rome is taught...from the traditional Eurocentric view and the more Liberal Multicultural view:

  1. Ancient Rome: (The traditional/"Eurocentric" approach):

a. The Republic-(500 BC/BCE-27 BC/BCE)

b. The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire-(27 BC/BCE-476 AD/CE)

This type of course would almost exclusively focus on the ALL STARS of Roman History.

  1. But, here is an example of a Multicultural approach towards the study of Ancient Rome:

a. The Republic-(500 BC/BCE-27 BC/BCE), with some discussions on Greek Southern Italy, the Etruscans of Central Italy, as well discussing-(in greater detail), the Carthaginian side of the famed "Punic Wars", which ultimately, led to the downfall of Carthage and rise of Roman power around the greater Mediterranean region.

b. The Roman Empire-(27 BC/BCE-476 AD/CE). A 500 year historical survey of Roman imperial power, from the North of England, to the Middle East, with Italy, specifically, Rome, as its imperial Epicenter, accompanied by lengthy discussions of the relations Rome had with each (or many) of its conquered countries and peoples.

This is just one example of what a Multicultural History class would look like. It is a combination of the traditional subject of study, COUPLED with an additional study-(or studying) of its neighbors. The Multicultural approach, while not claiming to equalize all cultures, does aim towards a more democratic and representative approach in better understanding and knowing about the main historical subject and its external influences.

And then there is Political Correctness.

The ignoble and unvirtuous history of Political Correctness, has sadly, polluted much of our intellectual discourse over the years and was the Progenitor of today's "Cancel culture" and "Wokeness". In its early years, Political Correctness aimed to "abridge" and really censor free speech in a variety of ways; ranging from public shaming, to mindless hysterical sounding Activists who were disguising themselves as Academics and "Scholars".

Let's take the above mentioned example of a course on Ancient Rome, written and approved by (a not so small group of) PC Activist Educators:

  1. There is NO course on Ancient Rome, because it is, "Eurocentric" and therefore it is Evil. The study of Ancient Rome is intolerable and must be discontinued.


  1. There will be a course on Ancient Rome, however, it will treat Rome, as the SOLE Villain, while at the same time, ALL of the Roman Empire's NON-European cultures, will be glorified and praised, due to their chronically hapless and oppressed state of being.

In other words, Political Correctness, on the one hand, may choose to eliminate Western Civilization altogether because of its so-called, evilness; on the other hand, PC Activists may choose to solely vilify Western Civilization, as a way of punishing the historically Powerful, while giving praise to the historically disenfranchised.

Essentially, Political Correctness, is an updated version of Marxism whereby historical "class struggle", is supplanted by historical ethnic, religious and/or racial "struggle". It is a vilification of the Powerful "class"-(based on ethnicity, religion and/or race), while glorifying a new type of "Proletariat"...the historically oppressed-(again, based on ethnicity, religion and/or race). In traditional Marxism, Economics, is the foundation of all power struggles, though with Political Correctness, Culture, is the foundation of all power struggles.

Political Correctness may seem silly, sophomoric and sanctimonious; however, it is NOT powerless. The facilitators of Political Correctness have been and are still, VERY determined in obscuring and sidelining the more noble pursuits and aims of Democratic Multiculturalism. Retrospectively, when the competition between Multiculturalism and Political Correctness began 30 plus years ago, it appeared as if both sociocultural movements were beginning at the same speed. However, with the passage of time and into the present-day, Multiculturalism is sadly, lagging behind....while Political Correctness, is winning, victory after victory.

  • Please give citations of this happening, or this is just straw-manning.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 5:46
  • 1
    I would say that this is more of a legitimate commentary....and not "straw manning".
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 6:02

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