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The performativity of personhood
  1. Catherine Mills

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In debates on infanticide, including the recent defence of so-called ‘after-birth abortion’, philosophers generally treat the term ‘the person’ as descriptive, such that statements claiming that something is a person (or not) can be considered true or false, depending on the characteristics of that thing. This obscures important aspects of its usage. J L Austen identified a subset of speech acts as performative, in that they do things in their very declaration or utterance. They do not simply describe states of affairs or things, but perform the act they ostensibly describe. ‘I promise’ or ‘I apologise’ may be taken as paradigmatic. Performative speech acts are not judged according to their truth-value, but their …

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