Fixing pornography’s illocutionary force: Which context matters?

Philosophical Studies 177 (10):3013-3032 (2020)
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Rae Langton famously argues that pornographic speech illocutionarily subordinates and silences women. Making good this view hinges on identifying the context relevant for fixing such force. To do so, a parallel is typically drawn between pornographic recordings and multipurpose signs involved in delayed communication, but the parallel generates a dispute about the right illocutionary force-fixing context. Jennifer Saul and myself argue that if pornographic speech is akin to multipurpose signs, its illocutionary force is fixed by the actual decoding context: of using/viewing pornographic recordings. By contrast, Claudia Bianchi argues that the relevant context is intended/expected decoding. Here I take issue with Bianchi’s view. Her intentionalist account faces two serious objections. First, the collapse objection: Bianchi’s intentionalist view is so formulated that it collapses into that endorsed by Saul and me. This undermines Bianchi’s case against us. Second, the dissonance objection: looking at a different aspect of Bianchi’s view, and one that does depart from the positions of Saul and myself, shows that her analysis is too intentionalist and cannot be used to elucidate pornography’s illocutionary force. Bianchi’s view should hence be rejected. This nevertheless leaves open further theoretical avenues of research, which I briefly discuss at the end of the paper.



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Speech acts and unspeakable acts.Rae Langton - 1993 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (4):293-330.
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.Catharine A. Mackinnon - 1991 - Law and Philosophy 10 (4):447-452.
Disempowered Speech.Jennifer Hornsby - 1995 - Philosophical Topics 23 (2):127-147.

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