SOPhiA 2021

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Discriminatory compliments, scales and the common ground
(Philosophy of Language, )

Some utterances of compliments, such as ``Your German is excellent'' said towards a woman of colour in Austria, seem to communicate discriminatory beliefs or content towards members of minority groups, even if they are intended to genuinely compliment their recipient. In order to explain how this discriminatory content comes to be, I first look at some general properties of compliments, arguing that they allow for scalar implicatures in virtue of the gradable adjectives used in compliments being on so-called Horn scales (Horn 2006). I proceed to explain how a given compliment can be appropriate within a situation but fail to be so in another one by arguing that in order to be appropriate, a compliment needs to meet or exceed a specific standard on an appropriateness scale based on the aforementioned Horn scale. I then point out that in order to fully explain the given phenomena, we must allow for the appropriateness scale to adapt to varying contexts in two ways, either by shifting its scope or by changing the relevant standard.

Making use of the prior theoretical observations, I present an explanation of discriminatory compliments based on Langton's recent work on the presuppositions of authority-requiring speech acts (Langton 2018). I aim to show that if a compliment does not meet the standard of any contextually salient appropriateness scale, a scale that renders the compliment appropriate will be accommodated as part of the common ground. Furthermore, I argue that uttering a discriminatory compliment requires a form of epistemic authority that most speakers should generally not assume.

In presenting my paper, I hope to direct attention towards a type of speech act that has so far been underappreciated in contemporary philosophy of language, as well as point towards yet another way in which a seemingly innocent type of utterance can express harmful attitudes towards minority groups.

Works cited:

Horn, L. (2006): ``Implicature'', in Horn, Ward (eds.): The Handbook of Pragmatics. Malden et al.: Blackwell Publishing, 3-28.

Langton, R. (2018): ``The Authority of Hate Speech'', in Garner et al. (eds.): Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law Volume 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 123-152.

Chair: Nursan Celik
Time: 14:40-15:10, 09 September 2021 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.007

Gabriel Levc 
(Universität Wien, Austria)

I am currently an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of Vienna. I am mainly interested in topics of contemporary philosophy of language, especially in how we can apply received semantic or pragmatic theories to areas of social or political significance.

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