Whenever one works with diverse populations, it’s inevitable that someone will say something that offends someone else. We might make a passing remark about some religious or ethnic group that seems perfectly innocent to us, but that a member of that group finds offensive upon hearing it, for example. Clearly, then, being offended is a familiar experience for most of us, though what it is that happens to offend us can vary widely.
But what is it about an experience that makes it a case of being offended? In virtue of what do I count as offended? It’s odd that though we know roughly what this state is like, such that I can talk about it in a way that everyone understands, we can’t seem to say much about what it means to be offended.
There are a few things we can say about the state of being offended, but they don’t get us very far. We can, I think, confidently assert that being offended is a negatively valenced state, which is to say that it is always seen as bad, unpleasant, or to-be-avoided. Further, it’s usually a response to something that a person does. We aren’t often offended at the actions of our pets, for example.
Beyond this, it’s difficult to say much with any certainty. Is being offended an emotional or affective state? Is it constituted by certain behaviors or dispositions to behave? Is there some essential neurological or physiological response that is characteristic of being offended?
At first glance, I’m not sure how to answer any of these questions. What do you think? Post your responses in the comments section, and feel free to provide links to other blog posts about this topic. I look forward to hearing from you!
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.