What is offensive?
Mark (Clifton)
Source: Aeon, 17 October, 2018
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Essay Plan

  1. The duel of honour was a violent practice deeply associated with elitism and is therefore repugnant to today’s moral sensibilities. That said, focusing too much on the differences between offence in the two historical contexts can blind us to important parallels. If the duel seems exotic, the underlying norm of equal respect that was at the heart of honour should be more familiar.
  2. The first part of this essay will explain how the duel was used to defend equal status for all gentlemen.
  3. The second will show how the same basic concept of offence-as-insult that underlies duelling can make more sense of today’s controversies over offensive speech than either offence-as-hurt or offence-as-harm.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Offence-as-insult suggests that those who take offence today should not be thought of as exceptionally fragile. They are sensitive, but only because they insist on the respect that, according to our norms of status equality, they are owed.
  2. Voltaire, in his role as persecuted gadfly, is most often namechecked in support of free speech against offence. Yet the Voltaire who challenged Rohan might be made to stand for the other side of the argument. He risked his life and suffered persecution for daring to challenge the contempt visited by the high-born upon the common.
  3. If offence is about insult, then those who take offence today might be like early bourgeois duellists who began to stand on their pride after being made to swallow it for so long.

Comment:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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