“Essentializing Language and the Prospects for Ameliorative Projects” by Katherine Ritchie (University of California, Irvine)

Some language encourages essentialist thinking. While philosophers have focused on essentialism and generic generalizations, I argue that nouns as a category are poised to refer to kinds and to promote representational essentializing. Our psychological propensity to essentialize when nouns are used reveals a limitation for ameliorative projects. Ameliorated nouns (and their conceptual correlates) can continue to underpin essentializing inferences. Given the way language and cognition function, ameliorative projects can fail to meet core anti-essentialist social and political ends by failing to consider the import of vehicles of representation. Yet, I argue, representational essentialism does not doom anti-essentialist ameliorative projects. Rather, would-be ameliorators ought to attend to the propensities for our representations to essentialize and to the complex relationship between essentialism and prejudice.