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Language, Rules, and Rule: Austin and Wittgenstein on understanding and authority
Unformatted Document Text:  Hobbes’ image seriously as chains suggests a different relationship between sovereign and subjects, taking seriously the intersubjective understanding required for ‘uptake’ suggests the incompleteness of Austin’s picture of language. In each case, what is elided is the fundamentally relational nature of language—that it exists only as a medium among human users, and works not only toward but through their understanding of one another; and in each case that elision secures one agent’s ability to realize its will in the social world by giving that agent a privileged position in relation to language—through illocution in Austin’s case, and through law in Hobbes’. Hobbes’ picture of law is, of course, one part of a much larger story about sovereignty, a conception of political rule that strictly separates ruler from ruled by dividing agent and patient: The sovereign takes all of the action involved in exercising state power, while the consequences of that action belong entirely to the subjects, who encounter the sovereign’s actions as already-completed external constraints. 13 Given this, one might think that, unlike chains, laws can and do form a one-way bond, constraining subjects but not sovereign, and that Hobbes has simply botched his metaphor. But Hobbes is also portraying the linguistic character of the sovereign’s power, and this makes the issue of the relationship between conventions and communication raised (though misconceived) by Austin internal to the structure of rule. If the fact that language too ‘pulls both ways’ makes chains a more appropriate figure for language than Hobbes might like, this suggests a rethinking of political rule as well as of language itself. 13 Hobbes makes the distinction here through his concepts of representation and authorization; see Leviathan XVI & passim. 10

Authors: McFadden, Tanner.
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Hobbes’ image seriously as chains suggests a different relationship between sovereign
and subjects, taking seriously the intersubjective understanding required for ‘uptake’
suggests the incompleteness of Austin’s picture of language. In each case, what is elided
is the fundamentally relational nature of language—that it exists only as a medium
among human users, and works not only toward but through their understanding of one
another; and in each case that elision secures one agent’s ability to realize its will in the
social world by giving that agent a privileged position in relation to language—through
illocution in Austin’s case, and through law in Hobbes’.
Hobbes’ picture of law is, of course, one part of a much larger story about
sovereignty, a conception of political rule that strictly separates ruler from ruled by
dividing agent and patient: The sovereign takes all of the action involved in exercising
state power, while the consequences of that action belong entirely to the subjects, who
encounter the sovereign’s actions as already-completed external constraints.
Given this,
one might think that, unlike chains, laws can and do form a one-way bond, constraining
subjects but not sovereign, and that Hobbes has simply botched his metaphor. But
Hobbes is also portraying the linguistic character of the sovereign’s power, and this
makes the issue of the relationship between conventions and communication raised
(though misconceived) by Austin internal to the structure of rule. If the fact that
language too ‘pulls both ways’ makes chains a more appropriate figure for language than
Hobbes might like, this suggests a rethinking of political rule as well as of language
itself.
13
Hobbes makes the distinction here through his concepts of representation and authorization; see
Leviathan XVI & passim.
10


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