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Monday, October 14, 2002


what counts as an object.....    "system of representation which we bring to bear upon the object" as Searle said with Mr McGoo and then there's Davidson on Meaning, Truth Conditions and the sentences of the language... and then there's the Intentions of the Speech (act) Users "title of Searle's book" always generated by Human Beings, always for a P{urpose} "what is he doing when he utters something" (2011 context: what sort of behaviour is this?) What are my rule goveregreened behaviours?
The purpose of J.L Austin’s paper ‘Performative Utterances’ (1956) is to draw a distinction between two
kinds of utterances. An historical understanding of language held that it was the business of every
meaningful utterance to be either true or false. Against this historical backdrop, Austin notices a seemingly
clear-cut class of utterances whose business is not to make any truth claim. Thus, he wanted to distinguish
between different uses of language. However, in the same paper, under careful analysis, Austin’s
distinction vanishes. In this essay, I will give a thorough exposition of Austin’s argument and conclusion,
focusing specifically on the significance of an analogy Austin makes to Moore’s paradox. I will then
consider a number of attempts to revive Austin’s distinction and conclude whether ‘Performative
Utterances’ does or does not uncover distinct uses of language.
Specifically, Austin makes the distinction between constative and performative utterances. Constatives are
a class of ‘fact-stating’ utterances (Horn p159), that is utterances that ‘constate’ something true or false
(Graham p54)1. This includes reports, statements, descriptions, assertions, predictions etc., a simple
example is ‘that yacht is white and blue’. Performatives however, although grammatically indiscernible
from constatives have two distinctive properties: they do not constate something true or false, and a person
making a performative utterance isdoing something rather thansaying something (Austin p235). Austin
gives four straightforward examples of performatives (Austin p235):
At a marriage ceremony someone says ‘I do’ (take this women to be my lawfully wedded wife).
I tread on your toe and say ‘I apologise’.
I have a bottle of champagne in my hand and say ‘I name this ship theQueen Elizabeth’.
I say ‘I bet you sixpence it will rain tomorrow’.
Notice here that it is nonsense, as Austin puts it, to regard these utterances as truth claims. We do not say
anything true or false when we say ‘I apologise’. Nor are these utterances reports of what it is we are doing;
we do not report that we are making a bet or christening the ship. Rather by making the utterance, the