Dilemmas of Political Correctness

Dan Moller
Debates about political correctness often proceed as if proponents see nothing to fear in erecting norms that inhibit expression on the one side, and opponents see nothing but misguided efforts to silence political enemies on the other. 1 both views are mistaken. Political correctness, as I argue, is an important attempt to advance the legitimate interests of certain groups in the public sphere. However, this type of norm comes with costs that mustn't be neglected-sometimes in the form of
more » ... ct with other values we hold dear, but often by creating an internal schism that threatens us with collective irrationality. Political correctness thus sets up dilemmas I wish to set out (but not, alas, resolve). the cliché is that political correctness tramples on rights to free-speech, as if the potential loss were merely expressive; the real issue is that in filtering public discourse, political correctness may defeat our own substantive aims. WHat Is PolItICal CorreCtness? Political correctness, as I will understand it, is the attempt to establish norms of speech (or sometimes behavior) that are thought to (a) protect vulnerable, mar-ginalized or historically victimized groups, and which (b) function by shaping public discourse, often by inhibiting speech or other forms of social signaling, and that (c) are supposed to avoid insult and outrage, a lowered sense of self-esteem, or otherwise offending the sensibilities of such groups or their allies. the concept, we should note, is one used by its enemies; dubbing something politically incorrect implies there is something worrisome or objectionable at work, though not necessarily that the po-1. earlier philosophical debates illustrate this. see, e.g., Friedman and narveson 1995