Literature/1955/Austin

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Austin, J. L. (1955). How to Do Things with Words. The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, ed. by J. O. Urmson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.

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w: J. L. Austin#How to Do Things With Words
  • How to Do Things With Words is perhaps Austin's most influential work. In it he attacks what was in his time a predominant account in philosophy, namely, the view that the chief business of sentences is to state facts, being "true" when they succeed and "false" when they fail in that business. In contrast to this common view, he argues, sentences with truth-values form only a small part of the range of utterances. After introducing several kinds of sentences which he asserts are neither true nor false, he turns in particular to one of these kinds of sentences, which he calls performative utterances or just "performatives". These he characterises by two features:
    • Again, though they may take the form of a typical indicative sentence, performative sentences are not used to describe (or "constate") and are thus not true or false; they have no truth-value.
    • Second, to utter one of these sentences in appropriate circumstances is not just to "say" something, but rather to perform a certain kind of action.
w: Verbal behavior
w: Speech act

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