|Photo of protestor: Larry W. Smith / EPA|
Yet the ethical implications of speech in general were at the same time a theme in Sanskritic reflection on language. Buddhist philosophers are famous for their having a notion of "right speech," and Jaina philosophers emphasize speaking truthfully, perhaps even to the exclusion of using non-literal language (Flügel 2010). Naiyāyikas argue that in a debate, being too much of a stickler for the literal meaning, and ignoring how people actually use language, amounts to causistry. And of course, in Alaṁkāra, there is much discussion over norms in poetic speech, for instance, what is inappropriate in virtue of being too obviously sexual and thus crude.
What I have not seen in Indian philosophy, however, is the thematization of insults and slurs as a special category of speech meriting its own investigation, like in contemporary analytic philosophy. The IEP has an entry for Pejorative Language (and the SEP will soon have one on slurs, I believe) which gives a sense as to why contemporary philosophers take pejoratives to merit special treatment as a linguistic phenomenon.
Whenever such differences appear in initial reading, though, I want to first reflect on whether the apparent difference is due to my own ignorance of the literature. Then, if there truly is a difference, I am curious as to what accounts for the way in which philosophical problems are identified as problems. Here, for instance, is the idea of slurs as distinct from insults something unknown in the premodern Indian context? The English term "slur" is used as a verb and a noun early (17th century) in the sense of insult, but not necessarily in the specialized sense of conveying disparagement about a group. So, we might ask, when does the idea of slur as it is being investigated in contemporary philosophy arise in the English-speaking world? Likewise, what would investigation of the verbs kalaṁkayati and malinayati show in the Sanskrit context? Were there expressions that were "taboo" in Sanskrit for analogous reasons as "the N-word" in modern English?
Flügel, P. (2010). “Power and Insight in Jain Discourse”, in Piotr Balcerowicz (Ed.), Logic and Belief in Indian Philosophy (pp.79–209). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Verpoorten, J.M. (2002). "Quelques tournures péjoratives dans le debat philosophique en Sanskrit," Indologia Taurinesia, 28, pp.267-279.