Is that a Threat?
I introduce game-theoretic models for threats to the discussion of threats in speech act theory. I first distinguish three categories of verbal threats: conditional threats, categorical threats, and covert threats. I establish that all categories of threats can be characterized in terms of an underlying conditional structure. I argue that the aim—or illocutionary point—of a threat is to change the conditions under which an agent makes decisions in a game. Threats are moves in a game that instantiate a subgame in which the addressee is ‘under threat’.
KeywordsSpeech acts Pragmatics Illocutionary acts Threats Warnings
Thanks to David Beaver, Josh Dever, and Hans Kamp for extensive feedback on several drafts of this paper. An earlier version of this paper was presented twice during a visit to the Arché Philosophical Research Centre in the summer of 2017. I would like to thank all of the participants at those presentations, in particular Derek Ball, Lisa Bastian, Josh Dever, Maegan Fairchild, Dan Healey, Poppy Mankowitz, Quentin Pharr, Ravi Thakral, Brian Weatherson, and Alex Yates for their questions, comments, and suggestions. I have also benefited from informal discussions of this paper with Simone Gubler, Megan Hyska, Amelia Kahn, Bronwyn Stippa, and Cassandra Woolwine, as well as from the feedback offered by several anonymous reviewers at Erkenntnis.
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