Assessing Speech Morally

Dominika Dziurosz-Serafinowicz, Patryk Dziurosz-Serafinowicz


It seems that much like non-verbal conduct, speech acts may be harmful, and so could be morally assessed. Within religious, ethical and philosophical systems, one can find many directives concerning the proper use of speech and conversation that could serve as a basis of such moral assessment. In this paper, we first examine some of these directives, and show that they cover not only speakers’ intentions and the semantic content of utterances, but also emphasize the importance of some extra-linguistic aspects of our speech. Secondly, we argue that John L. Austin’s speech act theory can give us a useful model for identifying various aspects of speech that, at least, should be taken into account when we assess one’s speech morally. Thirdly, we show that the perspective of speech act theory allows us to explain some cases where intuitively speakers can be morally blamed for what they do with their words, yet it seems that neither their intentions nor the extra-linguistic consequences of their speech acts provide a reason for assessing their verbal conduct as morally wrong.

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