Philosophy Speech Acts
by
Mitchell Green
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0300

Introduction

An ancient and dominant assumption in philosophy is that the central or even essential function of language is to describe how things are. Effective resistance to this assumption begins with appreciation of the variety of nondescriptive uses of language that are important for cognition and action. This resistance gave birth to what is now known as the theory of speech acts. Speech acts are best defined in terms of speaker meaning as that notion is commonly used in contemporary philosophy of language. Accordingly, as the expression is used here, a speech act is an act of speaker meaning that can (though need not) be performed by saying that one is doing so. Promising is a speech act on this criterion because one can promise by saying, “I promise to do so and so,” under the right conditions, and in any promise one must also speaker mean something. Insinuating and convincing are not speech acts in the sense used here because one cannot insinuate something or convince someone by saying that one is doing so. An utterance of words—such as when one recites lines from a song while testing a microphone—is an act of speech but not a speech act. Speech act theory has illuminated many socially and cognitively significant, non-descriptive acts that can be carried out with words; it has even shed light on descriptive discourse. These achievements have revealed a normative structure underlying language use and have provided tools applicable to a variety of fields within philosophy such as philosophy of mind, legal philosophy, meta-ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology. Beyond philosophy, speech act theory has also influenced literary theory, jurisprudence, and artificial intelligence.

General Overviews and Histories

Austin 1962 is the best-known source for contemporary discussion of speech acts. An edited version of Austin’s 1955 William James lectures, it is written in a style accessible to nonspecialists. (See Sbisà 2007 for an exegesis that resolves interpretive difficulties with Austin’s text.) Austin here distinguishes among locutionary acts (which are utterances of meaningful words, phrases, or sentences), illocutionary acts (which are the same as our speech acts as defined in the Introduction), and perlocutionary acts (which are the characteristic effects of illocutionary acts). He also introduces the notion of the performative (in which a speaker makes explicit at least one of the speech acts she is performing), and he provides an account of the varieties of infelicity to which speech acts are prone. Searle 1969 and Bach and Harnish 1979 are also wide-ranging treatments that have been influential; they are discussed further in the section Conventionalist versus Intentionalist Approaches. Huang 2012 contains useful definitions of terms typically encountered in the literature on speech act theory.

Textbooks and Anthologies

No textbook on the topic of speech acts yet exists, but Levinson 1983 is a well-known text that contains an extensive chapter on the topic. Searle, et al. 1980 contains articles on speech act theory with a focus on linguistic issues such as grammar and mood. Tsohatzidis 1994 is an excellent collection of commissioned articles, many of which concern issues in speech act theory. Grieman and Siegwart 2007 is a collection of essays on the relation of speech act theory to philosophical problems pertaining to truth. Chapters devoted to speech acts may also be found in handbook-style texts. Examples are Sadock 2004, Hornsby 2006, and Kissine 2015.

  • Grieman, D., and G. Siegwart, eds. Truth and Speech Acts: Studies in the Philosophy of Language. London: Routledge, 2007.

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    A collection of essays exploring relations between truth and assertion.

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    • Hornsby, J. “Speech Acts and Performatives.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Language. Edited by E. Lepore and B. Smith, 893–912. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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      An introduction to the topic that relates speech acts to issues in the politics of language.

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      • Kissine, M. “Sentences, Utterances, and Speech Acts.” In Cambridge Handbook of Pragmatics. Edited by K. Allan and K. Jaszczolt, 169–190. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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        Introductory essay relating speech act theory to research on child language development.

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        • Levinson, S. Pragmatics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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          Though dated, this strong textbook contains a useful chapter on speech acts.

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          • Sadock, J. “Speech Acts.” In The Handbook of Pragmatics. Edited by L. Horn and G. Ward, 53–73. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

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            Useful survey with an emphasis on the relevance of speech-act theory to contemporary linguistics.

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            • Searle, J., F. Keifer, and Bierwisch, eds. Speech Act Theory and Pragmatics. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1980.

              DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-8964-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              Contains articles on speech act theory with a focus the relation of speech acts to semantics, sentential mood, and other aspects of grammar.

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              • Tsohatzidis, S. ed. Foundations of Speech Act Theory: Philosophical and Linguistic Perspectives. London: Routledge, 1994.

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                With a detailed introduction and contributions from many perspectives on a wide variety of topics, this is the most comprehensive overview of speech act theory in print. Includes an extensive bibliography.

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                Philosophy’s Linguistic Turn

                It often happens that intellectual breakthroughs are made possible by ground clearing that took place well before their occurrence, and the case of speech act theory is no exception. Over five decades before Austin’s work, Gottlob Frege (Frege 1997) stressed the importance of distinguishing among a sentence, its utterance, and the use of such a sentence to make an assertion. He also introduces the notion of force, which is an ancestor of Austin’s concept of illocutionary force. Frege’s subtle analyses of language inspired others such as Russell to address metaphysical problems by clarifying the language in which they are couched. Russell 1993 (originally published in 1919) and its analysis of definite and indefinite descriptions is a paradigm of such a strategy. Soames 2003a provides a detailed exposition of the issues in this area. Two decades later, in the heyday of logical positivism, Ayer argued that even when couched in an indicative sentence, ethical discourse is aimed not at description but instead either at exhortation to action or expression of attitudes such as approval or disapproval on the part of the speaker (Ayer 1936). Views of this kind came to be known as emotivist. Contemporary expressivists in meta-ethics, while abjuring logical positivism, take their inspiration in the positivists’ emotivism. Soames 2003b explains these views and discusses some of the major challenges confronting them. The demise of logical positivism after the Second World War prompted philosophers to discern a wider range of nondescriptive uses of language than that associated with ethical discourse. In this period, ordinary language philosophy took form as a movement inspired by Wittgenstein’s injunction to consider word meaning in terms of use rather than, say, an abstract set of truth conditions. In this spirit, Strawson 1950 contends that even Russell fails to take the measure of the distinction between asserting a proposition and presupposing it. In work conceived in the ordinary language climate but with implications transcending it, Anscombe 1957 observes that utterances can relate to the world along various normative dimensions. One type of utterance might have as its aim the fitting of the words to the world; another might aim to get the world to fit the words. The notion of direction of fit has been influential in subsequent work on speech act theory, philosophy of mind, and meta-ethics. Humberstone 1992 offers an exposition and formalization of this notion. Soames 2003b critically examines the ordinary language movement and its demise.

                • Anscombe, G. E. M. Intention. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1957.

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                  Path-breaking study of the notion of intentional action in which the concept of direction of fit is introduced.

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                  • Ayer, A. J. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover, 1936.

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                    Classic defense of the claim that evaluative language is used primarily to express attitudes rather than to describe the world.

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                    • Frege, G. The Frege Reader. Edited by M. Beaney. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997.

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                      Collects many of Frege’s most influential articles and contains a detailed editor’s introduction.

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                      • Humberstone, I. L. “Direction of Fit.” Mind 101 (1992): 59–83.

                        DOI: 10.1093/mind/101.401.59Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Expounds and clarifies the notion of direction of fit, relating it to broader principles of theoretical and practical rationality.

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                        • Russell, B. “Descriptions.” In Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. By B. Russell, 167–180. London: Dover, 1993.

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                          More accessible than the author’s more-famous, “On Denoting,” this chapter explains how a philosophical problem can be dissolved by showing its formulation to rest on a grammatical confusion. Originally published in 1919.

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                          • Soames, S. Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century/ Vol. 1, The Dawn of Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003a.

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                            Careful discussion of the origin of the “linguistic turn” in the first half of the 20th century.

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                            • Soames, S. Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century. Vol. 2, The Age of Meaning. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003b.

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                              Detailed discussion of ordinary language philosophy.

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                              • Strawson, P. F. “On Referring.” Mind 59 (1950): 320–344.

                                DOI: 10.1093/mind/LIX.235.320Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Challenges Russell’s theory of definite and indefinite descriptions on the ground that it fails to take account of the distinction between asserting a proposition and presupposing it.

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                                Austin’s Illocutions

                                Austin went beyond the ordinary language philosophers’ piecemeal examination of restricted ranges of discourse to provide the first systematic account of utterances whose main function is not to describe reality. He distinguished among locutionary acts, in which a speaker uses a meaningful sentence to express a proposition; illocutionary acts, which are identical to our speech acts as previously defined; and perlocutionary acts, which are characteristic effects of illocutionary acts. Austin also provides an account of infelicities, which divide into misfires and abuses. In the former, a speaker attempts to perform an illocution but a flaw prevents it from being more than a locutionary act. In the latter, the putative speech act is performed, but the speaker has abused the practice that makes it possible by, for instance, a failure of sincerity. Cohen 1964 argues that Austin’s notion of illocutionary force is subsumed under his notion of locutionary meaning. Searle 1968 offers a reply. Warnock 1989 contains a useful overview of the main tenets of Austin’s theory of illocutionary acts. Austin divided illocutions into five broad kinds: verdictives, in which a speaker gives a verdict or finding (examples are acquitting, diagnosing, and characterizing); exercitives, in which a speaker exercises her power, rights, or influence (such as appointing, excommunicating, and ordering); commissives, in which a speaker commits herself to a future course of action or declares her intention with regard to such action (such as promises, vows, and proposals); behabitives, which are a heterogeneous group concerned with attitudes and social behavior (such as apologizing and congratulating); and expositives, which concern the conduct of reasoning and exposition (such as defining, assuming, and postulating). Warnock 1973 argues that some acts that Austin would consider illocutionary, such as excommunicating and bequeathing, are far enough removed from language to justify being placed in a category separate from those act that are essentially linguistic such as asserting and defining. Austin held that in performing an illocutionary act, one invokes not only the conventions that give words their literal meanings but also invokes extra-semantic conventions. Just as the conventions of chess enable a certain move to count as putting one’s opponent in check, so too, according to this force-conventionalism, extra-semantic conventions enable the utterance of an indicative sentence under the right conditions to count as, say, an assertion. As discussed further in the next section Conventionalist versus Intentionalist Approaches, Strawson 1964 mounts a challenge to this position.

                                • Cohen, L. J. “Do Illocutionary Forces Exist?” Philosophical Quarterly 14.55 (1964): 118–137.

                                  DOI: 10.2307/2955549Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Argues that Austin’s notion of illocutionary force is subsumed by semantics. (Searle 1968 offers a rebuttal.)

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                                  • Searle, J. “Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts.” Philosophical Review 77 (1968): 405–424.

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                                    Responds to Cohen’s challenge to the locutionary/illocutionary distinction (see Cohen 1964), while offering a refinement on Austin’s notion of an illocutionary act.

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                                    • Strawson, P. F. “Intention and Convention in Speech Acts.” Philosophical Review 73 (1964): 439–460.

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                                      Challenges Austin’s claim that all illocutionary acts depend for their occurrence on a set of extra-semantic conventions.

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                                      • Warnock, G. “Some Types of Performative Utterance.” In Essays on J. L. Austin. Edited by Isaiah Berlin, 93–111. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

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                                        Argues that Austin’s notion of illocutionary act casts its net too widely by including acts (such as excommunicating or appointing) that are not specifically linguistic.

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                                        • Warnock, G. J. L. Austin. London: Routledge, 1989.

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                                          Contains a useful chapter on Austin’s philosophy of language situating it within his other philosophical projects such as those in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

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                                          Conventionalist versus Intentionalist Approaches

                                          Austin claimed that all speech acts depend for their efficacy on extra-semantic conventions (conventions that go beyond those imbuing words with meaning), and Searle 1969 articulates this idea (which we will term force-conventionalism) with the notion of a constitutive rule: a rule having the form, “doing A counts as doing B.” Searle contends that uttering certain words under the right condition counts as a promise, declaration of way, warning, or excommunication as the case may be. Searle develops this approach by suggesting that each speech act-type may be exhaustively characterized as a particular way of satisfying the following conditions: preparatory (what conditions must obtain prior to the speech act), propositional content (what propositional content is expressed in the speech act), sincerity (what psychological state the speaker is to be in when performing the speech act), and essential (what kind of act the utterance is essentially). Strawson 1964 challenges Austin’s force-conventionalism by suggesting that while some speech acts might depend crucially on extra-semantic conventions, many others do not; instead an agent might perform one of these other acts by manifesting his intention to undertake a commitment, express a belief, or whatever is appropriate for the speech act in question. Strawson thereby connects speech act theory with Grice 1989 and its intentionalist approach to meaning, which is a matter of doing something with the intention of producing a psychological effect in an addressee, while also intending that the addressee take the speaker’s intention as part of her reason for entering into that psychological state. Schiffer 1972 earlier outlined an intentionalist alternative to force-conventionalism. Carr 1978 criticizes Schiffer’s attempt on the ground that it mistakenly assumes that speech acts such as assertion require intentions to produce cognitive effects such as beliefs in addressees. Bach and Harnish 1979 returns to Schiffer’s project, arguing that many speech acts may be defined as expressions of one or another psychological state combined with a communicative intention; exceptions are speech acts that are clearly conventional, such as excommunicating or appointing. For those speech acts that are not essentially conventional (which Bach and Harnish term communicative), their performance is a matter of expressing a psychological state. Communicative illocutionary acts fall for Bach and Harnish into four broad categories: constatives, directives, commissives, and acknowledgments.

                                          Indirect Speech Acts

                                          By uttering one form of words we can mean something not conventionally associated with those words. This phenomenon is carefully studied under the rubric of conversational implicature, for which see the Oxford Bibliographies article on “Pragmatics”. Related to this species of implicature are cases in which in performing one speech act, a speaker indirectly performs another. In asking a dinner companion, “Can you pass the ceviche?” I will normally be understood to be requesting that my addressee pass the ceviche rather than inquiring into her capacity to do so. Sadock 1972 contends that “can you do X?” has become an idiomatic way of requesting that one’s addressee do X. On this view, “Can you pass the ceviche?” will directly rather than indirectly issue a request. Sadock’s proposal does not support a plausible generalization, however: “Can you conjugate six Finnish verbs?” may be used, but is not standardly used, to request that the addressee conjugate six Finnish verbs. Searle 1979 develops an influential account on which indirect speech acts (ISAs) are a species of conversational implicature. The driving insight behind this theory is that by drawing attention to one of the felicity conditions for a request (in this case the addressee’s ability to fulfill it), the speaker conversationally implicates her interest in making that request. Implicature theories of ISAs leave unexplained the fact that “Can you pass the so-and-so?” as used during a meal and with reference to food items are highly standardized ways of making requests. To account for such phenomena, Morgan 1978 distinguishes between conventions of meaning and conventions of usage and suggests that forms that are standardly used to issue indirect requests fall under the latter type of convention. Bertolet 1994 contends that positing ISA’s is explanatorily otiose. McGowan, et al. 2009 replies that such posits are theoretically justified. Asher and Lascarides 2001 develop an account of ISAs within the formalism of discourse representation theory. Clark 1979 examines factors determining hearers’ responses to ISAs with the tools of field linguistics. Perrault and Allen 1980 develops an influential account of how an artificial intelligence system might recognize a human user’s ISAs.

                                          • Asher, N., and N. Lascarides. “Indirect Speech Acts.” Synthese 128 (2001): 183–228.

                                            DOI: 10.1023/A:1010340508140Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Uses Discourse Representation Theory as a framework for understanding indirect speech acts.

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                                            • Bertolet, R. “Are There Indirect Speech Acts?” In Foundations of Speech Act Theory. Edited by Tsohatzidis, 335–349. London: Routledge, 1994.

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                                              Argues that positing indirect speech acts is not obligatory.

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                                              • Clark, H. “Responding to Indirect Speech Acts.” Cognitive Psychology 11 (1979): 430–477.

                                                DOI: 10.1016/0010-0285(79)90020-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Detailed empirical investigation of how listeners respond to ISAs.

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                                                • McGowan, K., S. Tam, and M. Hall. “On Indirect Speech and Linguistic Communication: A Response to Bertolet.” Philosophy 84 (2009): 495–513.

                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S0031819109990088Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Argues against Bertolet 1994 that positing ISAs is explanatorily justified.

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                                                  • Morgan, J. “Two Types of Convention in Indirect Speech Acts.” In Syntax and Semantics. Vol. 9, Pragmatics. Edited by P. Cole, 261–280. New York: Academic Press, 1978.

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                                                    Distinguishes between conventions of meaning and conventions of usage and proposes to understand many ISAs as being governed by the latter type of convention.

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                                                    • Perrault, C., and J. Allen. “A Plan-Based Analysis of Indirect Speech Acts.” Computational Linguistics 6 (1980): 167–182.

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                                                      Develops a framework for how an artificial intelligence system might recognize the ISAs of a human user.

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                                                      • Sadock, J. “Speech Act Idioms.” The Chicago Which Hunt: Papers from the Relative Clause Festival, April 13, 1972. A Paravolume to Papers from the Eighth Regional Meeting. Edited by Paul M. Peranteau, Judith N. Levi, and Gloria C. Phares, 329–339. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, 1972.

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                                                        Argues that certain expressions are conventionally used to perform speech acts other than what their grammatical form would predict.

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                                                        • Searle, J. “Indirect Speech Acts.” In Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts. By J. Searle, 30–57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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                                                          Defends a conception of speech acts in broadly Gricean terms in which indirect force is conversationally implicated by the utterance that the speaker has made.

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                                                          Performatives

                                                          In a performative utterance such as “I promise to tie my shoe,” one makes at least one of the illocutionary forces of one’s utterance explicit. Austin 1962 (cited under General Overviews and Histories) held that performative utterances are neither true nor false, on the ground that they serve to effect acts (such as promises, marriages, appointments, etc.) rather than to describe such acts. Schiffer 1972 gives a qualified defense of this position. Many philosophers (Bach 1975) have challenged the inference from the premise that a performative serves to carry out an act to the conclusion that it cannot also describe that act. The alternative view can either take the form of the claim that performative utterances have truth value or the stronger claim that performative utterances of indicative sentences are also assertions. Sadock 1974 holds that each sentence uttered with an illocutionary force has in its underlying grammatical analysis a marker of that force. This “performative hypothesis” has been abandoned in light of objections such as those by Boër and Lycan 1980: the hypothesis leads to a regress and predicts incorrect truth conditions for utterances (because “I assert that the apple is red” might be true even when “The apple is red” is false). Recent discussion of performatives has centered on how to explain their “saying makes it so” property. Some have found it puzzling that in uttering a sentence under appropriate circumstances, a speaker can make that sentence true. Ginet 1979 argues that such prefaces as “I promise that . . . ” and “I assert that . . . ” are indications we give to others of the intentions with which we speak. Charitable interpretation then generally mandates that others construe the speaker to be intending to promise, assert, and so on. Bach and Harnish 1979 (cited under General Overviews and Histories) argues that performative utterances are assertions that indirectly perform the speech act whose force is named in the performative prefix. Searle 1989 contends that in a performative utterance a speaker manifests an intention to perform an act of a certain kind. Searle also hypothesizes that certain acts (such as promises, orders, and assertions) are such that manifesting an intention to perform that act is sufficient for its performance. Bach and Harnish 1992 replies to Searle by developing the position of Bach 1975 with reference to the notion of standardization invoked in some explanations of indirect speech acts. Jary 2007 offers an explanation of performatives on which they succeed by virtue of the speaker’s showing (rather than stating) which kind of speech acts she is performing.

                                                          The Distinction between Illocutionary Force and Semantic Content

                                                          Searle 1968 (cited under Austin’s Illocutions) and Searle 1969 (cited under General Overviews and Histories) analyze most speech acts into a force component and a propositional content component, symbolizing the combination as F(p), where F represents force and p represents propositional content. This analysis has been widely accepted but has come under criticism from two sources. First, it has been argued that some speech acts have contents that are not propositional. Strawson 1973 offers imperatives as another category not reducible to propositions, and one might also propound—as does Belnap 1990—a distinctive content appropriate to interrogative sentences, particularly for wh-questions. Kukla and Lance 2009 advocates at length a pragmatist conception of language on which indicative sentences and assertions are no more central than other grammatical forms and associated illocutionary acts. These alternative perspectives maintain a force-content distinction while abjuring the assumption that all contents are propositional. Second, it has been argued that meaning is too tightly bound up with illocutionary force to permit a division between meaning and force of the sort that the force-content distinction encourages. Barker 2007 and Hanks 2007 defend positions of this sort; Green 2000 defends a qualified version of the distinction according to which for some sentences, if they are used in a speech act, there is at least one other illocutionary act that the speaker must also be performing.

                                                          • Barker, S. “Semantics without the Distinction between Sense and Force.” In John Searle’s Philosophy of Language: Force, Meaning and Mind. Edited by S. Tsohatzidis, 190–210. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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                                                            Defends a conception of meaning that eschews any distinction between force and content.

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                                                            • Belnap, N. “Declaratives Are Not Enough.” Philosophical Studies 59 (1990): 1–30.

                                                              DOI: 10.1007/BF00368389Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Propounds a view of sentential content on which interrogative and imperative sentences express semantic types distinct from propositional content.

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                                                              • Green, M. “Illocutionary Force and Semantic Content.” Linguistics & Philosophy 23 (2000): 435–473.

                                                                DOI: 10.1023/A:1005642421177Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Defends a qualified version of the force/content distinction. Contains extensive bibliography of works pertinent to the topic published before 2000.

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                                                                • Hanks, P. “The Force/Content Distinction.” Philosophical Studies 134 (2007): 141–164.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/s11098-007-9080-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Argues against the standard force/content distinction while offering an approach on which propositions are inherently illocutionary.

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                                                                  • Kukla, R., and M. Lance. “Yo!” andLo!”: The Pragmatic Typology of the Space of Reasons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

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                                                                    Defends a pragmatist conception of language on according to which declarative sentences and the assertions associate with them are no more central than are other grammatical moods and associated illocutionary acts.

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                                                                    • Strawson, P. “Austin and ‘Locutionary Meaning.’” In Essays on J. L. Austin. Edited by I. Berlin, 46–68. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

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                                                                      Defends an interpretation of Austin’s notion of locutionary meaning as dividing into two categories, one propositional and the other of a sort corresponding to sentences in the imperative mood.

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                                                                      Speech Acts and Attitude Expression

                                                                      It is commonly held that most speech acts include among their felicity conditions the requirement that the speaker have a certain attitude (belief in the case of assertion, intention in the case of a promise, etc.); it is also often held that such speech acts express those attitudes. A speaker who felicitously asserts that P not only believes that P but also expresses that belief by means of that assertion. For the first decades after the inception of speech act theory, outside the field of aesthetics, expression was taken as familiar and in no need of elucidation. More recently, philosophers have attempted to elucidate this notion and, in some cases, have also tried to employ that elucidation to shed light on how a speech act is capable of expressing a psychological state. Davis 2002 construes expressing psychological state Ψ as performing an act with the intention of providing an indication that one is in state Ψ, without any further intention of covertly simulating an unintentional indication of Ψ. Davis explains that he takes indication as a weak relation such that A indicates B just in case A provides some evidence for B. Siebel 2003 challenges Davis on the ground that his definition of expression runs afoul of examples involving speakers who are pretending to perform an illocutionary act. In addition, Green 2008 criticizes Davis’s account as being too inclusive: so long as one believes that by snapping one’s fingers one can indicate that she believes that the Crab Nebula is 100 billion years old, Davis’s theory implies that one can express that belief (and not just attempt to do so) by snapping one’s fingers. Instead, Green 2007 contends, expressing an attitude requires showing it, which at the very least requires providing strong evidence for its presence. In a similar spirit, Bar-On 2004 construes avowals (statements of the form “I Ψ that P” (where Ψ is a psychological verb) as expressions of the state of Ψ-ing that P, rather than as self-descriptions. Green 2009 offers an account of the kind of attitude expression that is distinctive of speech acts by locating it within the theory of costly signaling as developed in research on the evolutionary biology of communication.

                                                                      Illocutionary Distortion

                                                                      Speech act theory traditionally idealizes away from many aspects of a communicative situation, including those in which one speaker is marginalized or another is given undue authority. As Pratt (Pratt 1986, p. 68) observes, “An account of linguistic interaction based on the idea of exchange glosses over the very basic facts that, to put it crudely, some people get to do more talking than others, some are supposed to do more listening, and not everybody’s words are worth the same.” Over the last two decades philosophers have begun to use speech act theory to illuminate such phenomena as these. For instance, Langton 1993 offers cases in which a speaker’s putative illocution may misfire due to her not being taken seriously by her interlocutor. Her putative refusal of a sexual solicitation, for instance, might be construed as a coy invitation by an interlocutor steeped in an ideology telling him that women’s refusals are merely forms of flirtation. Such phenomena—in which a speaker’s putative speech act misfires due to her finding herself in an oppressive social milieu—have come to be termed illocutionary silencing. We may also discern illocutionary amplification in which a speaker’s membership in a dominant group gives his words undue weight: imagine a white witness testifying against a black defendant in a trial occurring under Jim Crow. Taken together such phenomena might constitute what we might call illocutionary distortion. Langton’s silencing argument assumes that the speech act of refusing misfires if the addressee fails to take the utterer’s act as a refusal. Bird 2002 challenges this assumption, drawing an analogy with the illocutionary act of warning, which can occur even if the addressee does not take the act as a warning. Jacobson contends against Langton that her crucial examples only involve perlocutionary rather than illocutionary failures. Hornsby and Langton 1998 replies to Jacobson by invoking Austin’s view that fully felicitous illocutions require uptake on the part of the addressee. Maitra 2009 argues (in partial defense of Jacobson) that cases that have been construed as forms of silencing are better understood as failing to have their perlocutionary effect. Kukla 2012 argues that a speaker who intends her illocution to be, say, an order, might as a result of discrimination be taken to be issuing a suggestion instead; the force of her speech act might as a result be distorted by virtue of her social milieu.

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