In an earlier post, I asked the question of what it is that’s happening when we are offended by something. I now want to ask what I think is the much more interesting question–when is it appropriate to be offended?
The first thing we should do is clarify exactly what question we’re asking here. We’re not talking about how one ought to express that one is offended. There are clearly cases where it’s appropriate to be offended, but where one expresses that sentiment in a morally or socially troubling way.
Instead, we are asking what sorts of things we are right to be offended by. When does our being offended “get things right,” so to speak.
Consider an example to clarify this a bit. If a person experiences fear at seeing a massive grizzly bear directly in front of them, there’s a sense in which their fear is getting something right. Grizzly bears really are dangerous, and fear is a response that is supposed to track dangerous stuff. Fear at a tiny bunny does not seem to get things right in this way, because bunnies are not dangerous.
I think we can say something similar about being offended. There are some things that clearly don’t merit an offended response, such as my being offended at the color of your shirt or the type of car you drive. Other things clearly do seem to warrant being offended, such as the use of racial slurs or the mocking of a person’s disability.
But what’s going on here? What is it about racial slurs or mocking the disabled that makes such actions the sort of thing that are properly responded to by being offended? What quality do these actions have, that things like the shirt you wear or the car you drive lack?
If we can answer that question, we can begin to identify not only when being offended is “getting it right,” but we can perhaps get closer to answering our earlier question of what happens when we are offended.
What do you think? When is it appropriate to be offended? What is the difference between those cases and cases where being offended doesn’t “get it right” in the same way?
Feel free to leave a comment, and we’ll see what we can come up with.
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.