Speech Attacks: Bullshit, Lies, Propaganda, Silencing
While we clearly use language to convey information, there are many other acts we perform with language as well. This course is an examination of some of the other things we do with language. We will start with a discussion of John Austin’s seminal, 1962 work How to Do Things with Words, to introduce the basics of speech act theory. We will then devote each of the remaining four days to investigating one type of pernicious speech act. Questions will include: What is bullshit and how does it benefit the bullshiter? What are the roles of intention and implication in lying? How does propaganda engender dehumanization of others and the deindividuation of the self? And how can speech serve to silence—that is, stymie the expressive force of—disempowered speakers? We will look at what some of the best contemporary philosophers and social scientists have had to say about these topics. And we will pay special attention to contemporary examples of speech attacks in politics and popular culture.
Required Reading: How to Do Things with Words by J.L. Austin. Harvard University Press, 1975. ISBN: 0674411528
Mark Phelan is an associate professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. A regular contributor to the cognitive science program at Lawrence, Mark has published in numerous journals in philosophy and cognitive science on topics in the philosophy of mind, speech acts, aesthetics, and linguistic pragmatics. His topics of research interest include figurative language, how we talk about art, how we think about minds, and the normative structure of relationships.