My current research project connects the epistemology of testimony with theories of assertion and silencing. Specifically, I focus on how our theories of assertion and testimony relate to silencing, and how silencing arises in epistemic contexts more generally. This projects develops an original analysis of how assertion interacts with race and gender norms in testimonial exchanges, silencing speakers and generating epistemic injustices. Thus my project brings together developments in social epistemology, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of language, specifically speech act theory.
My research project addresses the way gender and race interact with testimonial exchanges that result in epistemic harms, ultimately silencing speakers. Although many scholars have argued that gender norms can silence women’s speech-acts when the audience does not recognize the speaker’s intentions; scholars have not yet adequately addressed how gender and racial norms silence speakers when hearers recognize speakers’ communicative intentions, as in extreme testimonial injustice. I argue that for a speaker to be effective, more than recognition of her intentions is required. In making this argument, I demonstrate that the only account of assertion that can accommodate this form of silencing characterizes assertion by deontic changes in the conversation. I also argue that although there may be a core harm resulting from silencing, different forms of silencing each result in different practical harms and require different responses. So, to rectify these harms we must know what the differences are among forms of silencing and have a satisfactory analysis of the linguistic mechanism that allows us to understand all forms of silencing across speech acts
Philosophy of Language
- Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
- Norms of Assertion
- Feminist Philosophy of Language (specifically, Silencing)
- Proper names and reference
- Epistemic Injustice
- Epistemology of Testimony
- Feminist Epistemology
- Epistemology of Disagreement
(Forthcoming) “Perlocutionary Silencing: A Linguistic Harm that Prevents Discursive Influence,”Hypatia.
Abstract: Various philosophers discuss perlocutionary silencing, but none defend an account of perlocutionary silencing. This gap may exist because perlocutionary success depends on extralinguistic effects while silencing interrupts speech, leaving theorists to rely on extemporary accounts when they discuss perlocutionary silencing. Consequently, scholars assume perlocutionary silencing occurs but neglect explaining how perlocutionary silencing harms speakers as speaker. In relationship to that shortcoming, I defend a novel account of perlocutionary silencing. I argue a speaker experiences perlocutionary silencing when she is illegitimately deprived of perlocutionary influence on a conversation in which she is an active participant, where perlocutionary influence on the conversation relates to speech related perlocutionary goals meant to influence the conversation or conversational direction. Thus, this account grounds perlocutionary silencing in linguistic phenomena. This account characterizes perlocutionary silencing in a way that explains why those who experience perlocutionary silencing are harmed as speakers. Moreover, this account explains how perlocutionary silencing harms speakers as conversational participants in a way that cannot be captured by illocutionary or locutionary silencing, for a speaker may be perlocutionary silenced despite illocutionary success. Consequently, the account explains why ‘All Lives Matter’ silences Black Lives Matter and ‘Not All Men’ silences women sharing experiences of sexual harassment.
(2021) “Conversational Epistemic Injustice: Extending the Insight from Testimonial Injustice to Speech Acts beyond Assertion,” Social Epistemology. 35 (6): 593-607.
Abstract: Testimonial injustice occurs when hearers attribute speakers a credibility deficit because of an identity prejudice and consequently dismiss speakers’ testimonial assertions. Various philosophers explain testimonial injustice by appealing to interpersonal norms arising within testimonial exchanges. When conversational participants violate these interpersonal norms, they generate second-personal epistemic harms, harming speakers as epistemic agents. This focus on testimony, however, neglects how systematically misevaluating speakers’ knowledge affects conversational participants more generally. When hearers systematically misevaluate speakers’ conversational competence because of entrenched assumptions about what speakers know, I call these conversational epistemic injustices. I argue the same epistemic harm in testimonial injustice arises for non-assertoric speech acts, generating conversational epistemic injustices. For across speech acts, deflated knowledge attributions create second-personal harms that prevent speakers from using their knowledge in linguistic exchanges, limiting their epistemic agency. These harms however are not reducible to linguistic harms, e.g. silencing or discursive injustice. This article applies insight from how second-personal epistemic harm arises in testimonial exchanges to conversational exchanges more generally, demonstrating that epistemic injustices arise beyond testimonial exchanges and contexts of inquiry because deflated knowledge attributions undermine general conversational norms requiring participants assume each other’s conversational competence, generating conversational epistemic injustices.
(2017) “Understanding Assertion to Understand Silencing: Finding an Account of Assertion that Explains Silencing Arising from Testimonial Injustice,” Episteme. 14 (4): 423-440.
Abstract: Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby provide accounts of how pornography silences women by appealing to J.L. Austin’s account of speech-acts. Since their accounts focus only on instances of silencing where the hearer does not grasp the type of speech-act the speaker intends to perform, their accounts of silencing do not generalize to explain silencing that arises from what Miranda Fricker calls “testimonial injustice.” I argue that silencing arising from testimonial injustice can only be explained by what we shall call the dialectical account of assertion, according to which assertion is the undertaking of a commitment in reasoned discourse. In doing so, I show that accounts of assertion based on speakers’ intentions, proposals to common ground, and constitutive norms do not provide the necessary framework to explain silencing within the context of testimonial injustice. Having shown the strength of the dialectical account in explaining silencing, I conclude that the dialectical account also provides a way to remedy some instances of silencing arising from testimonial injustice providing further evidence that the dialectical account is the correct account of assertion.
(2016) “Getting Expression-based Semantics Right: Its Proper Objects of Evaluation and Limits,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy. 54 (3): 393-410.
Abstract: Often those attempting to resolve the answering machine paradox appeal to Kaplan’s claim that the objects of semantic evaluation are expression-types with respect to indices, instead of utterances, as part of their solution. This article argues that Dylan Dodd and Paula Sweeney exemplify the kind of mistakes theorists make in applying such expression-based semantic theories in that they (1) conflate what is asserted with semantic content, and (2) they take their approach to utterance interpretation as having semantic significance. In light of these mistakes, we learn two things. First, we learn how expression-based semantic theorists can avoid making these kinds of mistakes. Second, we learn how the limits of expression-based semantics can contribute to what we should expect a semantic theory to explain regarding how semantics fits into a more general theory of linguistic communication and linguistic understanding.
(2016) “A Modulation Account of Negative Existentials,” Philosophia. 44 (1): 227-245.
Abstract: Fictional characters present a problem for semantic theorists. One approach to this problem has been to maintain realism regarding fictional characters, that is to claim that fictional characters exist. In this way names originating from fiction have designata. On this approach the problem of negative existentials is more pressing than it might otherwise be since an explanation must be given as to why we judge them true when the names occurring within them designate existing objects. So, realists must explain the intuitive truth of such statements. Some realists have appealed to pragmatics to explain this, but have not developed these positions fully. What follows is an original account of negative existentials based on the pragmatic process of modulation. Modulation affects the meaning of ‘exists’ such that its extension is merely those things that exist physically. It is then argued that the modulation approach provides a more natural account of the intuitive truth of negative existentials involving fictional characters than an account based on conversational implicatures. Finally, the modulation account is defended against objections presented against similar accounts.
Semantics, Pragmatics, and The Nature of Semantic Theories