How To Do Things With Fish And MacIntyre: Speech Act Theory, Dramatic Narrative, And The Interpretation Of Moral Utterance

Jason Hannan
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
August, 2005
 

Abstract

This thesis concerns the interpretation of moral utterance by members of alien cultures. It is based on Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory of the narrative constitution of moral identity and J. L. Austin and John Searle’s theory of the speech-act. The methodology is based on an essay by the postmodern literary critic Stanley Fish, who applies speech-act theory to a literary text to unpack the social and cultural conventions that govern the use of language. The present thesis attempts a similar task by likewise applying speech-act theory to a literary text. However, whereas the object of Fish’s analysis is the speech-acts constitutive of a formal institution, I have examined the speech-acts constitutive of a particular social tradition. The question of illocutionary force is an ongoing preoccupation in my analysis. It is my contention that the illocutionary force of the non-institutional speech-act derives from the authority of socially embodied narratives. Whereas the procedural force of “ought” statements issued in institutional settings derives from the legitimating structure of the institution itself, I argue that the moral force of “ought” statements issued in non-institutional settings derives from the collective narratives of which a moral agent is a part. Speech-act theory is invaluable to the study of communication, for it concerns the social and cultural conditions of intelligibility in a given community of meaning, the price one must pay for membership in that community, and the price one pays for defying its conventions. More importantly, it concerns the communicative foundations of moral meaning.
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