Deborah Raika Mühlebach

Doktorandin (Philosophisch-Historische Fakultät)


Deborah Raika Mühlebach studierte Philosophie, Gender Studies, Soziologie und Arabisch in Zürich und Paris. 2014 war sie wissenschaftliche Assistentin und Studienberaterin am Philosophischen Seminar der Universität Zürich. Seit HS 2014 arbeitet sie an einer Promotion zu sprachphilosophischen Aspekten und zur Kritik verletzenden Sprachgebrauchs unter der Betreuung von Prof. Dr. Markus Wild. Seit 2015 ist sie wissenschaftliche Assistentin in der Philosophiegruppe des Instituts für Umweltentscheidungen an der ETH Zürich. Sie ist Mitglied des Graduiertenkollegs “Geschlechterverhältnisse – Normalisierung und Transformation” der Gender Studies an der Universität Basel.

Deborah Raika Mühlebach studied Philosophy, Gender Studies, Sociology, and Arabic at the Universities of Zurich and Paris IV – Sorbonne. In 2014, she was an assistant and study adviser at the University of Zurich Institute of Philosophy. Since FT 2014, she is writing her dissertation on linguistic-philosophical aspects and on the criticizability of pejorative language use under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Markus Wild at the University of Basel. Since 2015, she is a research assistant at the ETH Zurich Institute of Environmental Decisions. She is a member of the graduate program “Geschlechterverhältnisse – Normalisierung und Transformation” at the University of Basel Institute of Gender Studies.

PhD Project

“Linguistic and Social Meanings in Derogatory Language Use”

since FT 2014

Supervisors: Prof. Markus Wild (University of Basel), Prof. Sally Haslanger (MIT, USA), Prof. Jennifer Saul (University of Sheffield, UK)

In my dissertation, I give a comprehensive answer to the question of what it means for our clearly (as opposed to merely implicitly) derogatory terms to be embedded in our broader social structures and practices. There are three major aims to my project:

First, I shall show that pragmatist inferentialism, as it has been developed by Robert Brandom (1998), is in a good position to explain a broad range of important linguistic and political aspects of clearly derogatory terms. I defend inferentialism against the main objections that have been raised against this view (paper under review) and give a detailed explanation of the hitherto most extensive list of linguistic and political aspects of derogatory language use (paper under review).

Second, I argue that if we are interested in the political and moral topicality of derogatory language use, it is crucial to embed the explanation of linguistic and political aspects of clearly derogatory terms in a broader framework of politically significant language (paper under review). I show that other theories of derogatory terms fail both to generalise to a broad range of clearly derogatory terms and remain silent about the connections both between clearly and implicitly derogatory terms, and between derogatory and politically significant terms (paper under review).

Third, I argue that even if we take a broad range of politically significant language into account, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of verbal derogation if we restrict our scope of investigation to linguistic meaning only. Based on the assumption that our verbal and non-verbal actions are meaningful in several ways, I argue that social meanings, such as stereotypical ascriptions, enter and shape the linguistic meanings of our terms and sentences in at least two ways, as part of the common ground of a speech situation and as possible precursors to certain linguistic meanings. As the practical upshot of this, effective criticism of clearly derogatory language requires us to engage in the political contestation of social meanings, too (paper under review).


Mühlebach, D. 2016. “Reflective Equilibrium as an Ameliorative Framework for Feminist Epistemology” in Hypatia 31 (4): 874–89.