Your word against mine: the power of uptake

Synthese 199 (1-2):3505-3526 (2020)
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Uptake is typically understood as the hearer’s recognition of the speaker’s communicative intention. According to one theory of uptake, the hearer’s role is merely as a ratifier. The speaker, by expressing a particular communicative intention, predetermines what kind of illocutionary act she might perform. Her hearer can then render this act a success or a failure. Thus the hearer has no power over which act could be performed, but she does have some power over whether it is performed. Call this the ratification theory of uptake. Several philosophers have recently endorsed an alternative theory of uptake, according to which the hearer can determine the nature of the act the speaker performs. According to this theory, if the hearer regards an utterance as illocutionary act y, then it is act y, even if the speaker intended to perform act x. Call this the constitution theory of uptake. The purported advantage of this theory is that it identifies a common but underanalysed way in which speakers can be silenced. I argue that despite its initial intuitive pull, the constitution theory of uptake should be rejected. It is incompatible with ordinary intuitions about speech, it entails a conceptual impossibility, and it has unsavoury political implications, entailing that marginalised speakers barely qualify as agents.
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Archival date: 2020-11-23
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