The 2018 Burman Lectures in Philosophy


Prof. Jennifer Saul, University of Sheffield

Lecture I: Dogwhistles, Political Manipulation and the Philosophy of Language
Wednesday February 21, 13.15-15, hörsal F, Humanities Building
Abstract: In recent years, an increasing number of analytic philosophers have turned their attention to the very important and fascinating intersection of philosophy of language with politics. In so doing, they have turned away from the thought that our primary concern should be with semantic content and truth conditions, or with how these are determined. Instead, we see careful attention to the political implications of what is presupposed, or what is conversationally implicated; and even some who focus on semantic content are exploring the politics of this content. This is an exciting and important development. But it is my contention that this has not yet gone far enough. We need to move beyond just a focus on content, however it’s conveyed—and indeed beyond just the conscious effects of our language use. I will argue for this through a careful exploration of the under-investigated phenomenon of ”dog whistles” or ”code words”.

Lecture II: Racial Figleaves, The Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump
Thursday February 22, 13.15-15, hörsal F, Humanities Building
Abstract: The dogwhistles discussed in my first paper are used by politicians when overt expressions of racism are seen as socially unacceptable. This was commonly taken to be the case in the US between the civil rights era and the 2016 election. That election, with the victory by Donald Trump despite his overt expressions of racism, presents a puzzle: what changed, in order to allow such success by an overt racist? In this paper, I argue that one factor was Trump’s use of a linguistic technique that I call a figleaf. I argue that figleaves have the capacity to alter our norms of permissibility in powerful and disturbing ways.

Lecture III: ‘Immigration’ in the Brexit Campaign: Dogwhistle Terms in Complex Contexts
Friday February 23, 10.15-12, hörsal F, Humanitiets Building
Abstract: In this paper, I examine the immigration-related dogwhistles of the Leave campaign in the UK. I argue that uncertainty (or, perhaps, contextual shifting) regarding the target of these dogwhistles made them particularly hard to fight. This examination helps to illuminate both the successes of the Leave campaign and some previously unexplored complexities of dogwhistles.

All interested are welcome to these lectures!

Umeå University
The Department of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies