Seemingly fleeting and barely legible insults, slights, and derogations might seem morally insignificant. They’re the byproducts of ordinary thoughtlessness and insensitivity; moreover, insofar as they inflict harm at all, the harm seems miniscule – hurt feelings, disappointment, annoyance, momentary frustration. Aren’t such things as insults and put-downs in the eye of the beholder, anyway? Surely, there are bigger fish to fry.
In The Ethics of Microaggression (Routledge 2021), Regina Rini takes seriously this kind of skeptical stance towards the phenomena of microaggression. Indeed, she finds that a common understanding of microaggression is too vulnerable to skeptical challenge. However, she then develops and defends an alternative conception of microaggression that preserves the experiences of those who suffer microaggression while quelling skeptical objections. Along the way, she also proposes strategies for morally dealing with microaggressors.
Robert Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.