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Political Correctness

  1. Robert Sparrow

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee589

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Sparrow, R. 2013. Political Correctness. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


“Political correctness” is a phrase that came to prominence in the “culture wars” that occurred in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was subsequently taken up elsewhere. The idea that a coalition of feminists (see Feminist Ethics), ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and left-wing intellectuals has achieved so much social and institutional power in the United States as to be capable of censoring – or at least intimidating – anyone who holds views contrary to the supposedly “politically correct” orthodoxy was promoted by conservative and neo-conservative writers such as Dinesh D'souza (1991), Allan Bloom (1987), Roger Kimball (1991), and Nat Hentoff (1992). These authors’ efforts led to a range of initiatives by progressives, regarding campus “hate speech,” racial vilification, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and the content of the curricula at schools and universities, to become known as “political correctness” (PC; see Hate Speech; Affirmative Action; Sexual Harassment; Academic Freedom). The subsequent “PC debate” raised important issues about the nature and extent of freedom of expression, the difference between censorship and criticism, and the role of educational institutions in a democratic society (Berman 1992; Dunant 1994; Williams 1995; see Speech, Freedom of).


  • censorship;
  • culture;
  • hate speech;
  • legal and political;
  • practical (applied) ethics