Dogwhistles, Political Manipulation, and Philosophy of Language

In Daniel Fogal, Harris Daniel & Moss Matt (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford University Press. pp. 360–383 (2018)
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This essay explores the speech act of dogwhistling (sometimes referred to as ‘using coded language’). Dogwhistles may be overt or covert, and within each of these categories may be intentional or unintentional. Dogwhistles are a powerful form of political speech, allowing people to be manipulated in ways they would resist if the manipulation was carried outmore openly—often drawing on racist attitudes that are consciously rejected. If philosophers focus only on content expressed or otherwise consciously conveyed they may miss what is most powerful and pernicious in the speech of political culture. This essay is a call to start paying attention to these more covert speech acts, and a first attempt at beginning to theorize them. It argues that dogwhistles present a complex and interesting case for the philosopher of language, and explores their implications for democratic politics.

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Jennifer Saul
University of Waterloo


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