Sakinah Munday

Sakinah Nadiah Munday (MA in Philosophy, 2021) ‘Pragmatic Silencing: Against Intentionalism, and the Need for a Social Norm Account of Linguistic Disablement’

Philosophers have long theorised that we use our words not just to communicate ideas, but also to perform everyday actions known as ‘speech acts’. More recently, feminist philosophers have argued that speakers, particularly individuals from marginalised groups, might be systematically and unjustly prevented from performing certain speech acts. This idea has sparked a wealth of work in feminist philosophy of language, commonly referred to as the ‘silencing’ literature. Because the term ‘silencing’ is broad, and other terms are theoretically laden, I suggest we label the phenomenon ‘pragmatic silencing’.

The question of how we should conceive of this nuanced form of silencing is not yet settled. My goal is to contribute to this enquiry. Specifically, I explore two questions. First, what do we want to achieve with a concept like pragmatic silencing? That is, what are the political and social aims for implementing such a concept? Second, given these aims, how should the concept be constructed, and which (if any) theoretical tools are most apt for the job?

In answering these questions, I sketch how the notion of pragmatic silencing has the potential to radically challenge existing mainstream paradigms around ideas of language use and its value, paradigms that are often socially and politically detrimental to marginalised speakers. I then argue that, to realise this potential, we should not articulate pragmatic silencing through an intentionalist lens. Instead, I advocate for an amended conventionalist framework: our understanding of pragmatic silencing should account for the central role of social norms in constraining and enabling speech acts.

Supervisors: Dr Laura Schroeter, Professor Greg Restall