How to Do Things with Words

How to Do Things with Words

by J.L. Austin

These talks became the classic How to Do Things with Words.For this second edition, the editors have returned to Austin's original lecture notes, amending the printed text where it seemed necessary.

An appendix contains literal transcriptions of a number of marginal notes made by Austin but not included in the text.

Comparison of the text with these annotations provides new dimensions to the study of Austin's work.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Philosophy
  • Rating: 3.95
  • Pages: 168
  • Publish Date: 1976 by Harvard University Press
  • Isbn10: 0674411528
  • Isbn13: 9780674411524

What People Think about "How to Do Things with Words"

Here's an extract for your delectation.Once upon a time, there was a philosopher called Frege, who had the interesting idea that language and logic were really, you know, pretty much the same thing. Language, explained Wittgenstein, consisted of "pictures", the predicate calculus expressions, which "connected to the world". Wittgenstein apologised "for not writing a better book", but he managed to convince many of his colleagues that logic may not in fact be the right way to think about what language means. And so we get up to Austin, one of Wittgenstein's brightest students, who wrote How To Do Things With Words. Austin suggested some more useful terms, which were also enthusiastically adopted, and now everyone in linguistics talks about locutionary acts, perlocutionary acts and illocutionary force. He wrote a book called Speech Acts, where he described different kinds of illocutionary acts. And then Searle had a student called Vanderveken, and together they developed a framework for writing down speech acts as formulas, in a new framework they called illocutionary logic.So, in three academic generations, linguistic philosophers had found their way back to logic again, just a different kind of logic.

Like Tractatus, the Investigation gave rise to its own following, this time in the form of Ordinary-Language Philosophy, represented primarily by a few figures at Oxford University: Gilbert Ryle, H.L.A. Hart, Peter Strawson, R.M. Hare, and, of course, J.L. Austin. Perhaps the most significant departure from Logical Positivism on the part of Ordinary-Language Philosophy was the switch in emphasis from the truth-conditions of an utterance to the conditions of its acceptability. This fixation reached fever pitch with the Logical Positivists and their verificationist doctrine, which raised truth-functionality to the status of a criterion of meaning: no utterance could be said to be meaningful unless it was descriptive in nature, i.e. unless it purported to relay a state of a affairs that could be observably true or false. For he pretends to have discovered a class of utterances that are not descriptive or, to use Austins terminology, constative in nature, and yet that do not contain any of the problematic words (ought, good, right, etc.) associated with evaluations and moral judgments. These, Austin points out, presuppose that certain conditions are in place: that there exists an institutional practice to which they correspond, that they are being performed by the right people, and in the right circumstances. For it turns out that the descriptive statements or constative utterances held up by the Logical Positivists as standards of all language-use are in fact but one variety of speech-act, namely describing or stating. But in fact, Austin goes further: not only is truth but one form of a condition of acceptability, but most utterances made in everyday life even those that are apparently constative in nature are not constative in the sense encountered in works of philosophy. In fact, many apparently constative uses of language operate with very different acceptability conditions, as for example the claim that Italy is shaped like a boot, which he says is nether true nor false, but simply rough or fair. Although later revisions of speech-act theory notably by John Searle and Jürgen Habermas are certainly more detailed and perhaps more convincing than Austin's account, there can be no doubt, while reading How to Do Things with Words, that one is witnessing something of crucial importance, the repercussions of which are unmistakeable in contemporary philosophy on both sides of the supposed Analytic-Continental divide and even across disciplines into linguistics, sociology, gender theory and political science.

Austin is the one who came up with the idea of felicitous and infelicitous argument.

Lots of Aristotelian classification, and a surprise twist for the last two chapters where he returns to his premises and (ugh, I hate the word) deconstructs them.

Lo que le interesaba en principio era estudiar un tipo particular de enunciados, aquellos a los que es imposible asignarles un valor de verdad. Pero qué decir razonaría Austin de otros como Hola, o Gracias, o Te prometo que mañana te pago, o Qué hora es?, o Los declaro marido y mujer, o etcétera? Austin, entonces, se dio cuenta de esto, y propuso que existen enunciados, a los que él en primer lugar llamó performativos, que más que decir algo sobre un estado de cosas, crean un estado de cosas que no existía antes. Austin empezó por este tipo de enunciados y pronto se dio cuenta de que sus características podían extenderse a otros más mundanos: hay acciones que ejecutamos típicamente (aunque no siempre exclusivamente) con palabras, como saludar, agradecer, prometer, insultar Enseguida, como todo aquel que encuentra una veta inexplorada, Austin universalizó sus conclusiones. La conclusión, que un poco o mucho anticipó Wittgenstein (aunque Austin negaría su influencia), es que todos los enunciados suponen acciones; es decir, todos son actos de habla.

And I'm left really wishing that Austin would have given an example illustrating how "the truth or falsity of a statement depends not merely on the meanings of words but on what act you were performing in what circumstances".

John Langshaw Austin (March 26, 1911 February 8, 1960) was a British philosopher of language, born in Lancaster and educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford University. Unlike many ordinary language philosophers, however, Austin disavowed any overt indebtedness to Wittgenstein's later philosophy.