Linguistic authority and convention in a speech act analysis of pornography

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (3):435 – 456 (2007)
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Abstract

Recently, several philosophers have recast feminist arguments against pornography in terms of Speech Act Theory. In particular, they have considered the ways in which the illocutionary force of pornographic speech serves to set the conventions of sexual discourse while simultaneously silencing the speech of women, especially during unwanted sexual encounters. Yet, this raises serious questions as to how pornographers could (i) be authorities in the language game of sex, and (ii) set the conventions for sexual discourse - questions which these speech act-theoretic arguments against pornography have thus far failed to adequately answer. I fill in this gap of the argumentation by demonstrating that there are fairly weak standards for who counts as an authority or convention-setter in sexual discourse. With this analysis of the underpinnings of a speech act analysis of pornography in mind, I discuss a range of possible objections. I conclude that (i) the endorsement of censorship by a speech act analysis of pornography competes with its commitment to the conventionality of speech acts, and, more damningly, that (ii), recasting anti-pornography arguments in terms of linguistic conventions risks an unwitting defence of a rapist's lack of mens rea - an intolerable result; and yet resisting this conclusion requires that one back away from the original claim to women's voices being 'silenced'.

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Nellie Wieland
California State University, Long Beach

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