How to Establish Authority with Words: Imperative Utterances and Presupposition Accommodation

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, it aims at providing an account of an indirect mechanism responsible for establishing one's power to issue biding directive acts; second, it is intended as a case for an externalist account of illocutionary interaction. The mechanism in question is akin to what David Lewis calls presupposition accommodation: a rule-governed process whereby the context of an utterance is adjusted to make the utterance acceptable; the main idea behind the proposed account is that the indirect power-establishing mechanism involves the use of imperative sentences that function as presupposition triggers and as such can trigger off the accommodating change of the context of their utterance. According to the externalist account of illocutionary interaction, in turn, at least in some cases the illocutionary force of an act is determined by the audience's uptake rather than by what the speaker intends or believes; in particular, at least in some cases it is the speaker, not her audience, who is invited to accommodate the presupposition of her act. The paper has three parts. The first one defines a few terms — i.e., an “illocution”, a “biding act”, the “audience's uptake” and an “Austinian presupposition” — thereby setting the stage for the subsequent discussion. The second part formulates and discusses the main problem of the present paper: what is the source of the agent's power to perform binding directive acts? The third part offers an account of the indirect power-establishing mechanism and discusses its externalist implications.
Keywords J. L. Austin  speech act theory  presupposition accommodation  illocutionary acts  deontic powers
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