The language we use often has profound implications for our perception of categories, and those within them. In this article, I suggest that there is an entire class of utterances which are misleading and unhelpful when used to describe mental illness: generics. Generics are statements that describe kinds or categories rather than individuals. I suggest that generics about mental illness can propagate insidious forms of social stereotyping, much in the same way Leslie (2013) describes. However, they also encourage us to treat the categories they name in quintessential terms: that is, as deeply similar and unified. This is liable to generate misconceptions, and lead to beliefs about mental illness which do not cohere with clinical reality and contribute to misunderstanding and stigma. As such, I suggest that we should avoid using generics to talk about mental illness categories, and instead use quantified utterances. Where we hear generics, we should challenge them via the mechanism of metalinguistic blocking (Haslanger, 2011).


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pp. 261-275
Launched on MUSE
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