Illocution and Expectations of Being Heard

Maura Tumulty and Colgate University

in Out from the Shadows

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199855469
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932788 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

Illocution and Expectations of Being Heard

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Jennifer Hornsby and Rae Langton have argued that in some cultural contexts, women are not able to perform the illocutionary act of refusing sex by saying “No.” They argue that this illocutionary disablement is a kind of silencing. The silencing happens because men sometimes do not hear “No” as a refusal of sex, and hence sometimes a woman who utters “No” cannot achieve uptake of her intended illocution. Hornsby and Langton follow J. L. Austin in taking uptake to be necessary to illocution. But this view of Austin's is controversial and has recently been criticized by Alexander Bird. I argue that while uptake isn’t necessary to every illocutionary act, a speaker's beliefs about the possibility of uptake play a key role in some kinds of illocutionary acts. Because refusal is an illocutionary act of such a kind, women can be silenced in contexts where they believe their refusals won’t be heard as refusals. We are therefore still able to acknowledge loss of expressive power as a harm women sometimes suffer.

Keywords: illocution; illocutionary force; silencing; Langton, Rae; Hornsby, Jennifer; Bird, Alexander; Austin, J. L

Chapter.  12875 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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