An Acknowledgment of Political Correctness

by Hanna

Language is undergoing a radical change that can be seen in the break up of philosophy as a traditional academic subject. Philosophy cannot function by the rules it has always functioned by. Terms such as “being,” “system,” “substance,” even “subject” represent staid modes of thought that are no longer of general interest.

This same reevaluation of language is active in society at large in the ongoing political correctness movement. Some words are deemed stereotypes and misrepresentations and others that were once deemed such are “reclaimed” by the previously offended groups. Some thinkers wishing to be heard, raise their voices above the crowd by resorting to provocative language that brings on a backlash of accusations of political incorrectness. In such cases, the message gets lost in arguments over language. Linguistic fluctuation can be utterly frustrating at times like this, but it does open the way for a new theoretical focus.

A new focus can mean a move beyond static and systematic concepts to modes of thinking that are dynamic and relational. Since science has taken over the realm of determining judgements, philosophy doesn’t need to point out absolutes or structural systems, but needs to move beyond them to show the contingency of systematic thought and the dynamics of such contingency. It needs to reveal the movement of the world and the movement of human creativity that keeps remaking, reinventing, reorganizing the world.

With all that change happening, language (the tool of philosophy) has to change quickly to keep up. The same words that have always been used should not be used in the same ways they have always been used. Political correctness (as a political movement that philosophy has to comprehend) is exactly that process by which an attempt is being made to wash old preconceptions and prejudices out of the language. It is an attempt to wipe the linguistic slate clean, so that we can make a new start. Of course, instead of a clean slate, language is thrown into turmoil.

Philosophical thinking cannot simply ride the waves of change. If it wants attention, it can’t just reflect how the world is changing. It must engage in the search for language that reflects the dynamic nature of modern experience in the world. To gain any respectful attention for its message, philosophy needs to enter the fray and take on the role of negotiator (not pedantic know-it-all).

There will inevitably be setbacks due to linguistic missteps and moments of frustration, but philosophers who have learned to reconcile different philosophical views should be able to negotiate linguistic disagreements successfully. There are many conflicting accounts of the world, but they are all accounts of the same world. Philosophy should be able to draw them together. There will be no success at all, if philosophy simply provokes and accuses its critics of limited intelligence. That is, unless it is agreed upon that philosophy may close itself off and keep its “insights” to itself. By throwing itself into the fray, philosophy will gain more than what it can gain in seclusion.