Assertion and Rejection

In Daniel Altshuler (ed.), Linguistics Meets Philosophy. Cambridge University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract
I argue that rejection is a speech act that cannot be reduced to assertion. Adapting an argument by Huw Price, I conclude that rejection is best conceived of as the speech act that is used to register that some other speech act is (or would be) violating a rule of the conversation game. This can be naturally understood as registering *norm violations* where speech acts are characterised by their essential norms. However, I argue that rejection itself is not to be characterised by a norm. Instead, registering violations is a necessary condition for understanding the normative framework in the first place. The core observation is that the concept of an 'illegal move' is intelligible, so a speech act can be (say) an assertion, despite violating the essential norm of asserting. Rejection has the function of pointing out that a move is illegal. But registering rule violations is a precondition of playing games with rules (it is part of the concept 'game'), not itself a rule in a game. A similar special role of rejection (that it is not explicable in the terms provided by a framework, but needed to conceptualise these terms) likely occurs in other frameworks as well, e.g. characterising speech acts by commitments or their effect on a common ground.
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