Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Philosophy of language; feminist philosophy; epistemology; testimony; communicative injustice

Major Advisor

Michael Lynch

Associate Advisor

Lionel Shapiro

Associate Advisor

Thomas Bontly

Associate Advisor

Mitchell Green

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


I develop a new, socially sensitive, account of conversation and assertion. According to traditional speech act theory, an utterance is a particular conversational move, like a question or a promise, when it has a particular kind of force. Traditionally, this force – called illocutionary force – has been understood in terms of various conditions, norms, and constraints that utterances either meet or fail to meet. This tradition has led some philosophers to attempt to account for this force by way of a constitutive norm. In my first two chapters, I argue that this way of understanding conversational moves is misguided, and that there is a more promising alternative.

The third chapter outlines my new position. Illocutionary force is relative to perspective. As participants in conversations perceive social changes made by speech, they form expectations and assign obligations. These expectations and obligations are the hallmarks of illocutionary force. When a speaker is perceived as asserting, for example, the perceiver of that force forms expectations that the speaker will behave as if they believe the content asserted. Of course, participants may not all agree on the expectations and obligations generated by an utterance. So, the force that an utterance has is relative to the expectations it generates in each participant in the conversation.

While this account of illocutionary force is new, it has applications to extant debates i.e. to our understanding of communicative justice. In my last two chapters I apply my new account to the debates over unjust restrictions on speech and testimony.