SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

SOPhiA ToolsDE-pageEN-page

Programme - Talk

Silencing as Resistance
(Philosophy of Language, English)


Silencing is usually discussed as something that unjustly happens to an already disadvantaged group. I explore the possibility of using silencing as a means of resistance and countering discriminatory speech. I argue that Quill Kukla__s account of uptake gives us an interesting framework for (partially) retracting the speech of others.

The role of uptake in performing an illocutionary act has been much discussed. In social philosophy of language, uptake has mostly been treated as a felicity condition for illocution (Langton&Hornsby 1998). More radically, sometimes uptake is taken to constitute the illocution (Kukla 2014).

To be (illocutionary) silenced means to be made unable to perform a certain illocutionary act. Failing to secure uptake is one way illocutions can be infelicitous. If the intended warning "You won__t make the jump!" is taken to be a dare by its recipient, the speaker failed to warn them. But what did they do? Either they failed to do anything (Langton&Hornsby), or even issued a dare (Kukla).

Kukla holds that the performative force of a speech act depends on its output, i.e., the normative statuses, the social change, it brings about. For example, a speech act is a promise if and only if it brings about an obligation to keep it (and other related normative statuses), independently of the speaker's intention to make a promise.

What at first might sound like an unpalatable consequence, I argue, can also provide a fruitful framework for counter-speech. If a hearer can change what a person does with words through her subsequent behaviour and subscription to normative statuses, she might be able to stop discriminatory speech simply by failing to react accordingly. A typical example would be treating an insult as a joke. If the hearers laugh instead of taking offence, the speaker's insults are silenced. Importantly, this approach should not be interpreted as an appeal to endure abuse, but as calling attention to the power a hearer has over a speaker's actions.

My argument adds to the already existing discussion about blocking felicity conditions (Langton 2018) and retracting one's own speech (Kukla&Steinberg 2021). I argue that with Kukla's framework it is possible to go even further and make plausible the possibility to retract other people's illocutions as a hearer or a small-scale group effort by adjusting one's reaction.


Hornsby, Jennifer and Rae Langton (1998): "Free Speech And Illocution" in Legal Theory, 4 (1998), 21-37.

Kukla, Quill -writing as Rebecca- (2014) "Performative Force, Convention, and Discursive Injustice" in: Hypatia, vol. 29, no. 2 (spring 2014), pp. 440-457.

Kukla, Quill and Dan Steinberg (2021): "'I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said': The Pragmatics of Retraction" in Townsend, Leo; Stovall, Preston; Schmid, Hans Bernhard (eds.): The Social Institution of Discursive Norms. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group, pp. 223-247.

Langton, Rae (2018): "Blocking as Counter-Speech" in Fogal, Daniel; Harris, Daniel W.; Moss, Matt (eds.): New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chair: Hugo Ribeiro Mota
Time: 10:40-11:10, 09. September 2022 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007

Marlene Valek 
(University of Vienna, Austria)

Testability and Meaning deco