[SydPhil] UOW Philosophy Research Presents

michael kirchhoff michael.david.kirchhoff at gmail.com
Thu Oct 19 06:02:00 AEDT 2017

*UOW Philosophy Research Presents: *

*What does it mean to ‘offend’, ‘insult’ ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’?
Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (Cth) and the problem of harm*

Speaker: Dr. Sarah Sorial (UOW)

Date: 25 October 2017

Time: 15.30-16.45

Venue: 19.2072

(Research Hub)


There has been significant public debate about the wording of section 18C
of the Commonwealth *Racial Discrimination Act (RDA)*, specifically in
relation to the words “offend” and “insult.” The inclusion of these words
in the offence, it is argued, is not only too broad and too vague, but also
unduly restricts freedom of speech. Part of the problem is that the
legislation does not define the key terms – offend, insult, humiliate and
intimidate, or establish a harm threshold – and so leaves itself open to
the charge that it is too imprecise to have any meaningful legal content.
In our ordinary understandings of these terms, we tend to think that the
words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ refer to relatively innocuous types of speech
and so speech that does these things – offends or insults others – should
not be regulated because it does not cause harm. My claim is that a failure
to adequately define these terms within the appropriate context has
distorted what is at stake in these debates; namely, that the offending or
insulting speech is not only also racist speech, but is also speech that
*does* certain things when uttered in certain contexts.

In this paper, I take up this definitional challenge with reference to Joel
Feinberg’s discussion of harm and its relation to hurt and offense. While
the terms offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate mean different things
and do not necessarily cause *harm, *words are, as philosophers of language
have demonstrated, very complicated things. Their meaning and what they do
are often context dependent. My claim is that in the context of societies
characterized by racism, discrimination, and inequality, racist speech
typically does *all* these things at once: it offends, intimidates,
humiliates and intimidates. Including these terms in the legislation
arguably captures the complexity of what goes in the context of a racist
utterance in a society characterized as such.

Aimed at staff and postgraduates, but open to all.

Best wishes,

*Dr. Michael D. Kirchhoff *
Lecturer in Philosophy
School of Humanities and Social Enquiry
Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts
University of Wollongong NSW 2522
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