Gillian Russell

Gillian Russell, UNC Chapel Hill
18. Januar 2018  16-18 Uhr  3A NIG 3.Stock

Poster WKAP-Vortrag Gillian Russell

Speech Acts and Speaking Up 

Abstract: When people encounter speech that they judge to inappropriately denigrate others, they often feel both a desire and an obligation to respond with more speech – a response that I’ll call “speaking up”. When we hear our colleagues unfairly put down, racist or sexist jokes told, or misleading aspersions cast on victims, many of us wonder whether we should speak up, and some people speak up more readily and with more confidence than others. But whether we speak up or not, is also common to have doubts about its value. Some reservations might concern outweighing pragmatic reasons – as when one suspects that speaking up will provoke violence. But others – the ones this paper is concerned with – reflect worries about the value and effectiveness of speaking up in the first place. People worry that their professed support for an oppressed group on facebook would merely serve to signal their own goodness. Or they worry that even if speaking up would be good, they are not the right person to do it – perhaps it would be better left to a member of the denigrated group themselves? Others worry that they will do a poor job of arguing against the offensive speaker, something that might be worse than saying nothing at all. And finally, one might worry about what speaking up can be expected to actually achieve.
A skeptic about the value of speaking up might argue that speaking up is simply contributing more talk, and that something concrete – perhaps “real action” or a monetary donation – ought to be favoured instead. The goal of the present paper is use a model of denigrating speech that has been taking shape in the literature on speech acts to answer questions about the effectiveness and value of speaking up. According to the model, some denigrating utterances are themselves acts (or attempted acts) of subordination. In this paper I develop the models further – employing Stalnaker’s notion of a Context Set and Lewis‘ Rule of Accommodation (both mechanisms suggested by Maitra) – and explore the model’s consequences with respect to speaking up.  Assuming this model of denigrating speech, one might suspect quite generally that if „mere“ speech is powerful enough to subordinate, then it might also be powerful enough to undo subordination, or prevent it from taking effect.   My thesis in this paper is that it can, and in ways that exploit linguistic mechanisms already recognised in mainstream philosophy of language.