Is the Unthinkable the New Acceptable?

Peter Boghossian, Portland State University
James Lindsay, Portland State University

Copyright (2017) The Council for Secular Humanism


Boghossian and Lindsay determine what is moral. Political scientist Joe Overton (1960-2003), who served as vice president for the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy think tank, gave us insight into our feelings about moral questions such as this. He defined the normative "window of discourse" on an issue as the socially acceptable range of public opinions. Overton observed that the possible positions on an issue range from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to the sensible to the popular, with this gradation appearing on both sides of the political spectrum. Those ideas ranging from unacceptable to acceptable fall within the conceptual window that now bears Overton's name. For example, slavery falls so far to the right of today's Overton Window that "unthinkable" barely seems to cover it.