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How To Do Things With Words: The William James Lectures Delivered At Harvard University In 1955

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Este libro contiene ideas expuestas por John Langshaw Austin -una figurra clave en el mundo filosófico contemporáneo- en sus clases y en un ciclo de conferencias ofrecido en la Universidad de Harvard: las William James Lectures. Se trata, pues, de una recopilación de notas, cuidadosamente realizada por J.O. Urmson, en la que quedan expuestas las últimas e inconclusas refle Este libro contiene ideas expuestas por John Langshaw Austin -una figurra clave en el mundo filosófico contemporáneo- en sus clases y en un ciclo de conferencias ofrecido en la Universidad de Harvard: las William James Lectures. Se trata, pues, de una recopilación de notas, cuidadosamente realizada por J.O. Urmson, en la que quedan expuestas las últimas e inconclusas reflexiones de Austin sobre temas candentes de filosofía del lenguaje. A ellos contribuyó de manera original con su análisis de las denominadas "expresiones realizativas" (performative utterances), la noción de fuerza ilocucionaria y, en general, con su teoría de los actos lingüísticos. Las ideas de Austin sobre la importancia del lenguaje ordinario, el carácter cooperativo de la investigación filosófica, y la necesidad de una ciencia del lenguaje "liberada" definitivamente del yugo de la filosofía hacen -entre otras cosas- que esta obra no sólo posea atracción especial para todos aquellos interesados en la reflexión filosófica sobre el lenguaje, sino también comunicación, la semántica, la lingüística e incluso la filosofía del derecho.


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Este libro contiene ideas expuestas por John Langshaw Austin -una figurra clave en el mundo filosófico contemporáneo- en sus clases y en un ciclo de conferencias ofrecido en la Universidad de Harvard: las William James Lectures. Se trata, pues, de una recopilación de notas, cuidadosamente realizada por J.O. Urmson, en la que quedan expuestas las últimas e inconclusas refle Este libro contiene ideas expuestas por John Langshaw Austin -una figurra clave en el mundo filosófico contemporáneo- en sus clases y en un ciclo de conferencias ofrecido en la Universidad de Harvard: las William James Lectures. Se trata, pues, de una recopilación de notas, cuidadosamente realizada por J.O. Urmson, en la que quedan expuestas las últimas e inconclusas reflexiones de Austin sobre temas candentes de filosofía del lenguaje. A ellos contribuyó de manera original con su análisis de las denominadas "expresiones realizativas" (performative utterances), la noción de fuerza ilocucionaria y, en general, con su teoría de los actos lingüísticos. Las ideas de Austin sobre la importancia del lenguaje ordinario, el carácter cooperativo de la investigación filosófica, y la necesidad de una ciencia del lenguaje "liberada" definitivamente del yugo de la filosofía hacen -entre otras cosas- que esta obra no sólo posea atracción especial para todos aquellos interesados en la reflexión filosófica sobre el lenguaje, sino también comunicación, la semántica, la lingüística e incluso la filosofía del derecho.

30 review for How To Do Things With Words: The William James Lectures Delivered At Harvard University In 1955

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    I happened to run into Bill Bryson the other evening on a deserted street somewhere in Geneva. On impulse, as one does, I mugged him and stole his latest manuscript. It turned out to be a potted history of philosophy. 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. He invented predicate calculus, which was the best shot to date at making sense out I happened to run into Bill Bryson the other evening on a deserted street somewhere in Geneva. On impulse, as one does, I mugged him and stole his latest manuscript. It turned out to be a potted history of philosophy. 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. He invented predicate calculus, which was the best shot to date at making sense out of that particular approach. For example (this always comes up, for some reason), in English you might say "John loves Mary", and in predicate calculus you would write it aslove'(john', mary')You have two constants, john' representing John, and mary' representing Mary, and the predicate love' obtains between them. Some people, Bertrand Russell being a notable example, liked Frege's insight. They picked it up and improved it. And then, in 1921, a young Austrian called Ludwig Wittgenstein published the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which was meant to finish the job. Language, explained Wittgenstein, consisted of "pictures", the predicate calculus expressions, which "connected to the world". I first came across the Tractatus when I was about 17, and I remember looking at it and trying to figure out how this connection was supposed to work. It didn't seem to be very clearly explained, and I wondered what I wasn't getting. But at the time, Wittgenstein thought he'd cracked the problems of philosophy. He retired, and did other things that were more fun. After a while, Wittgenstein started to have misgivings. Maybe it wasn't all about logic: in fact, language often doesn't seem to be logical at all. (I know. You could have told him that, right? But Great Philosophers prefer to work it out by themselves). He started compiling a huge quantity of notes, which were meant to outline a new theory. These eventually saw the light as the Philosophical Investigations, an impressive mess. 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. He probably wasn't as inspired as his master, but he was certainly much better organised. One key insight immediately found favour. There are some ways of using words that do indeed seem to be about describing the world; but there are others that are about interacting with it. As Austin pointed out, when the Mayor says "I now pronounce you man and wife", she isn't describing anything. She makes something happen by virtue of what she says. And, when you think a little more, you see that this is the top of a linguistic iceberg. "Performatives", as Austin called them, are very common. It's not just marrying people: it's a bunch of other things, like making promises, or issuing threats, or asking questions. 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. The standard example is someone asking "Is there any salt?" The locutionary act is a question about the presence of salt, but the perlocutionary act is causing somebody to hand you the salt. The illocutionary force is a command to give you salt. Austin had a bright student of his own, called Searle, and Searle took the ideas further. 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. I wonder why this doesn't leave me feeling happier?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Philippe-Antoine Hoyeck

    20th Century Anglo-American philosophy has the peculiarity of having been marked by two seismic shifts pulling in different directions and yet having their roots in the writings of the same figure. The publication of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1919 inaugurated what came to be known as Logical Positivism. Originating in the Vienna Circle — a group of Austrian philosophers of science with revolutionary ambition and a questionable grasp of the Tractatus — logical posit 20th Century Anglo-American philosophy has the peculiarity of having been marked by two seismic shifts pulling in different directions and yet having their roots in the writings of the same figure. The publication of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1919 inaugurated what came to be known as Logical Positivism. Originating in the Vienna Circle — a group of Austrian philosophers of science with revolutionary ambition and a questionable grasp of the Tractatus — logical positivism made its way to England through A.J. Ayer’s seminal 1936 book, Language, Truth, and Logic and razed the philosophical ground with its verificationist criterion of meaning: a proposition is meaningful only if it represents a state of affairs that can be determined by experience to obtain or not to obtain. Having thus banished metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics and theology to the netherworlds of senselessness, the positivists rested content in reducing philosophy to a clarification of scientific propositions. Having ostensibly solved philosophy once and for all in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein did the only thing left for an honest philosopher to do: he left the discipline to be employed as a schoolteacher in rural Austria. A decade, later, however, doubts began to surface in his mind: might there be more to language than the Tractatus had let on? And so Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, where, over the course of the 1930s and 1940s, he began to develop his new philosophy, which culminated in his posthumous masterpiece, the Philosophical Investigations. In this new work, gone was the isomorphism between language, thought and world, replaced with the now-notorious multiplicity of incommensurable language-games and forms of life. 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 switch in emphasis forms the heart of J.L. Austin’s immensely influential and deceptively innocuous-seeming How to Do Things with Words. Ordinary-Language philosophy was often dismissed as mere terminological nitpicking, and reading Austin’s book superficially might seem to confirm that assessment. How to Do Things with Words collects of a series of lectures that Austin delivered over his career, pieced back together from his own sometimes fragmentary notes and from students’ transcriptions. The lecture series format, as well as the author’s own pedantic, sometimes tedious style, has the effect of stretching material that could easily have been fit into a 20-page article over a 160-page book rife with lists, examples, and minor adjustments that might well leave the reader wondering what the fuss is about. The fuss concerns an age-old fixation among philosophers upon the concept of truth. 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. Of course, philosophers were quick to identify apparent exceptions to this rule. Most notable among these were evaluations and moral judgments — utterances containing the terms “ought”, “good”, “right” and the like — the surface grammar of which resembled that of descriptive statements, but which seemed to function otherwise: as covert commands, perhaps (Stevenson), or as expressions of sentiment or attitudes (Ayer) or prescriptions (Hare). However, as a general rule, the verification criterion was thought to provide a good measure of an utterance's meaningfulness. This is Austin’s starting-point in the first lecture. For he pretends to have discovered a class of utterances that are not “descriptive” — or, to use Austin’s 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. He calls these performative utterances, or performatives for short. They are statements the uttering of which is to do something: statements such as “I do” (uttered during a wedding ceremony), “I hereby sentence you” (uttered by a judge), and “Out!” (uttered by an umpire). 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. These conditions constitute an utterance's “felicity conditions” or “acceptability conditions”; they are what must be in place for a performative utterance to be recognized by an interlocutor. Austin begins by trying to demarcate clearly performative from constative utterances. However, this soon runs into difficulties. After several false starts, he adopts a different approach and tries to determine in what sense saying something might amount to doing something. To make any linguistic utterance, he points out, is always to do three things. First, it is to perform a locutionary act, i.e. to make certain sounds which correspond to words in a vocabulary with a certain sense and reference. Second, it is to perform an illocutionary act, i.e. to use these with a certain conventional force. And third, it is to perform a perlocutionary act, i.e. to bring about certain intentional or unintentional effects. Together, these three components constitute what Austin calls a speech-act, a category under which he subsumes such varied actions as promising, apologizing, threatening, predicting, betting, appraising, marrying, and pronouncing. With these elements in place, Austin attempts one of the most spectacular reversals in the history of Western philosophy. 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. They are but one of the multiple linguistic activities that we perform in everyday life and do not possess any conceptual priority over the others. From this point of view, truth is but one form of felicity condition among many, namely that which belongs to constative utterance. 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. The latter, he maintains, are little more than abstractions. 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”. Austin's prose is charming and accessible and hearkens back to a time when so-called analytic philosophy still bore the signs of a classical education and at least some awareness that philosophy is a discipline conducted by living, breathing human beings reflecting upon their common condition. Like most English-speaking philosophers of his and of the following generation, he is a pleasure to read even when one is inclined to disagree with him. Admittedly, Austin's approach is needlessly convoluted. His argument could easily have been made straightforwardly in 20 or so pages, and this alone may be enough to deter certain readers from finishing the book. However, confusion in approach by no means entails confusion in content. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Austin is seldom read, but his ideas of performative language and speech-act theory have been very influential. I had a writing professor that would drive me nuts as he would discuss whether something was felicitous or infelicitous. I now know where he got this terminology. Austin is the one who came up with the idea of felicitous and infelicitous argument. It would be nice to be able to view the world as either happy or sad. I am not sure that the binary of felicitous and infelicitous actually Austin is seldom read, but his ideas of performative language and speech-act theory have been very influential. I had a writing professor that would drive me nuts as he would discuss whether something was felicitous or infelicitous. I now know where he got this terminology. Austin is the one who came up with the idea of felicitous and infelicitous argument. It would be nice to be able to view the world as either happy or sad. I am not sure that the binary of felicitous and infelicitous actually works in the world, but I like the way that he describes this binary as workings. This book includes lectures that he gave at Berkley. In my rhetoric class, we had a great discussion about how he would view Facebook and updating statuses. I love his references to cats (although I am not sure why I do).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I do things with words. Dark, terrible things. Okay, now that the joke's out of the way, may I say that I enjoyed this book of rather heady philosophy quite thoroughly? Which isn't to say that I skipped through it merrily like a prodigy--it took quite a bit of slow reading, and reading aloud, and flipping back to reread, and plenty of taking chapter endnotes, and marginalia to darken the edges, but you know what? I was surprised how often my notes were just smiley faces, or "hmm" or cheery acknow I do things with words. Dark, terrible things. Okay, now that the joke's out of the way, may I say that I enjoyed this book of rather heady philosophy quite thoroughly? Which isn't to say that I skipped through it merrily like a prodigy--it took quite a bit of slow reading, and reading aloud, and flipping back to reread, and plenty of taking chapter endnotes, and marginalia to darken the edges, but you know what? I was surprised how often my notes were just smiley faces, or "hmm" or cheery acknowledgment of 1955 slang (actually, probably older than that,adjusting for how hip and with-it Austin probably was, "cock a snook" being my personal favorite expression.). 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. Brain hurts a little and I'll probably feel like a doofus writing some sort of intelligent response on it for my continentalist professor tomorrow, but I appreciate Austin's good humor and deep thinking.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nat

    Just finished reading this again, for the nth time, for class tomorrow. I love this book, but it really could be 40 pages long. -------- (September 3, 2010) Rereading this, I was most struck by (1) how absurdly funny and delightful Austin's prose is ("a specialist in the sui generis"; "we can insincerely promise to give a donkey a carrot", "we may seem to have armed ourselves with two shiny new concepts with which to crack the crib of Reality", etc. etc.), and yet (2) how weirdly legalistic most of Just finished reading this again, for the nth time, for class tomorrow. I love this book, but it really could be 40 pages long. -------- (September 3, 2010) Rereading this, I was most struck by (1) how absurdly funny and delightful Austin's prose is ("a specialist in the sui generis"; "we can insincerely promise to give a donkey a carrot", "we may seem to have armed ourselves with two shiny new concepts with which to crack the crib of Reality", etc. etc.), and yet (2) how weirdly legalistic most of this book is. 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". Obviously the truth of a statement depends on the circumstances, but how does the truth of a statement depend on what act you were performing? Moreover, he says a statement IS a kind of (illocutionary) act, so how could the truth of an act depend on what act you were performing with it?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    attracted as I am to the charming circularity of sentences that "do" what they "say", austin loses me as early as p.9 with "I must not be joking, for example, nor writing a poem." will this theory of speech that cannot take jokes or poetry into account ever get beyond the most banal utterances of an honest-to-goodness man-of-his-word? then there is all the talk about war, sports, giving orders and shooting donkeys-- reading this book feels a lot like being bullied into accepting some rather dubi attracted as I am to the charming circularity of sentences that "do" what they "say", austin loses me as early as p.9 with "I must not be joking, for example, nor writing a poem." will this theory of speech that cannot take jokes or poetry into account ever get beyond the most banal utterances of an honest-to-goodness man-of-his-word? then there is all the talk about war, sports, giving orders and shooting donkeys-- reading this book feels a lot like being bullied into accepting some rather dubious assumptions about causality in speech... I declare a thumb war.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    After I finished this book I was thinking "this is definitely a five-star for Goodreads!" Okay, it's really frickin' good, but I think four is enough. I knew what this book was about before I read it, but it was a pleasure to hear it all in full. Not only is Austin's thesis really great, the origins of performative speech, but it's also very straightforward. I declare this book excellent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    You can do a lot of things with words, but tragically you still can't get them to wash the dishes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leonardo

    Intentemos entender la peculiar eficacia que define a esta ontología que da una hipóstasis, una sustancia, un ser a las cosas que parecen carecer de todo ser. Deberíamos, por lo tanto, considerar el hecho de que en el famoso libro de 1962 escrito por Austin que ya mencioné, How to do things with words [Cómo hacer cosas con palabras], la orden fue clasificada como un acto de habla, un acto ilocutivo, es decir, como un discurso que no significa o describe un estado de cosas simplemente sino que, m Intentemos entender la peculiar eficacia que define a esta ontología que da una hipóstasis, una sustancia, un ser a las cosas que parecen carecer de todo ser. Deberíamos, por lo tanto, considerar el hecho de que en el famoso libro de 1962 escrito por Austin que ya mencioné, How to do things with words [Cómo hacer cosas con palabras], la orden fue clasificada como un acto de habla, un acto ilocutivo, es decir, como un discurso que no significa o describe un estado de cosas simplemente sino que, mediante su mera pronunciación, produce la verdad como un hecho -perdón, el juramento como un hecho. Teología y lenguaje Pág.61

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Another one of these analytic-tradition writers I've become quite fascinated with that have still left an indelible imprint on the continentals. While working within the same, precise and cut-and-dried tradition as Frege and Russell, he still is able to make a radical proposition, that of the speech act. To sum up... Language is not just a code, it is an activity and needs to be treated as such. Our words for things are grounded in social and cultural realities, and their definitions are based on Another one of these analytic-tradition writers I've become quite fascinated with that have still left an indelible imprint on the continentals. While working within the same, precise and cut-and-dried tradition as Frege and Russell, he still is able to make a radical proposition, that of the speech act. To sum up... Language is not just a code, it is an activity and needs to be treated as such. Our words for things are grounded in social and cultural realities, and their definitions are based on socially generated acceptable meanings. Sentences are neither true nor false, they fit in with their contexts. These are things that make intuitive sense to you and me, but not to Frege. Poor Frege. Austin's specifics are a lot more complex and subtle, but if you care at all about the words you use-- and I care a lot, probably too much-- you'll find something to appreciate here.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Russell Olson

    This is a well composed look at a linguistic pseudo-system. I picked this up after reading the first chapter of "Truth in Painting," and wanted a bit more guidance than that found on Wikepedia concerning performatives. It looks like there are a number of pans below, and I can't really reason why. The book was compiled from lecture notes and was never fully edited or revised. What we get is the knotted thread of a philosophical investigation in which some knots have been loosened and some have be This is a well composed look at a linguistic pseudo-system. I picked this up after reading the first chapter of "Truth in Painting," and wanted a bit more guidance than that found on Wikepedia concerning performatives. It looks like there are a number of pans below, and I can't really reason why. The book was compiled from lecture notes and was never fully edited or revised. What we get is the knotted thread of a philosophical investigation in which some knots have been loosened and some have been passed over altogether. There are some very insightful "verb tools," loads of examples, and not one hammered nail...nothing to really poo-poo. Not a polished work, but full of instruction, humor and idea. On to Derrida.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    Austin has been critisized by many philosophers for not being philosophical enough, and as much as I can see their point I have to defend Austin. At the point that Austin gave these lectures anglo-american philosophy was full of so much nonsense - largely due to Frege's bizarre vocabulary (or possibly bad translations) and Russell ridiculous mathematical approach to things that just don't fit into equations. I don't think that this book is of a very high philosophical content, but I think that ph Austin has been critisized by many philosophers for not being philosophical enough, and as much as I can see their point I have to defend Austin. At the point that Austin gave these lectures anglo-american philosophy was full of so much nonsense - largely due to Frege's bizarre vocabulary (or possibly bad translations) and Russell ridiculous mathematical approach to things that just don't fit into equations. I don't think that this book is of a very high philosophical content, but I think that philosophy has benefited - with the help of Searle - from Austin's theoretically linguistic approach. Also this is one of the more enjoyable reads in the world of modern philosophy if a bit pedantic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Will Miller

    Simultaneously one of the most modest and one of the most seismically important works in the philosophy of language. Too well written for its own good. Searle's re-configuration of Speech Act Theory is much better philosophy, but this is worth a read just for the prose.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James Robinson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Speech utterances: The difference between describing something by saying something (constatives), and doing something via saying something (performatives). In the case of the latter, to speak is also to act - as in to change something about the world: 'I do take this woman/man to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband', 'I promise that I will be there tonight', 'get out of the way, that bull is dangerous!' Note that to do something via speaking may also involve actions - such as the exchanging of ri Speech utterances: The difference between describing something by saying something (constatives), and doing something via saying something (performatives). In the case of the latter, to speak is also to act - as in to change something about the world: 'I do take this woman/man to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband', 'I promise that I will be there tonight', 'get out of the way, that bull is dangerous!' Note that to do something via speaking may also involve actions - such as the exchanging of rings in the example of marriage. The former, which is the descriptive utterance, is distinguished from the performative in so far as nothing is changed about the world via its utterance: 'the grass is green', 'today is Tuesday', 'the lightbulb has blown'. As shall be seen though, there can be cases of crossovers between the two - ultimately requiring a new conceptual model comprised of three parts: 'locution, illocution and perlocution'(end of ch.8 onwards, book has 12 chapters). Fundamentally (from the revised conceptual model), the point of importance I took away from the dialectic, is that to speak is to in all cases to act in some way. That is, to provide a pithy summary, 'our word is our bond' - there is accountability for that which we say: like with the promise. - Austin's work is presented in the form of lecture notes posthumously edited and published - A relevant lecture of his can be found on YouTube under the title: 'J. L. Austin Lecture in Sweden (1959) part one', or via this link: https://youtu.be/JXo0YNZ3WsE

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mishehu

    A slim but challenging volume. Per its catchy title, the book is a sketch investigation (in the form of a series of lectures that were delivered at Harvard in 1955) of certain performative aspects of language which problematized the then paradigmatic view that all utterances (at least many more than you might suppose) may be analysed, qua simple statements, as true or false. It's no wonder these lectures have been continuously reprinted since their initial publication. This book has all the hall A slim but challenging volume. Per its catchy title, the book is a sketch investigation (in the form of a series of lectures that were delivered at Harvard in 1955) of certain performative aspects of language which problematized the then paradigmatic view that all utterances (at least many more than you might suppose) may be analysed, qua simple statements, as true or false. It's no wonder these lectures have been continuously reprinted since their initial publication. This book has all the hallmarks of having achieved its classic status upon its release. It's a goddess sprung from a clamshell; night separated from day; turtles all the way down. It's enormously provocative -- even across the generations. What it is, and has been, above all, is a spur to reflection and further investigation. Though I had difficulty following certain of Austin's more abstruse contortions, I am the richer for having attempted them. I highly recommend this book to anyone who prizes language, reason, and argument.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Easy to read and understand--he summarizes himself at the start of every lecture, so whenever I didn't understand something I skipped to the next chapter and, lo and behold, I figured it out! I'm not an analytic philosophy guy, but I have to say... Respect to Austin for somehow working in the phrase: "There are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it in butter".

  17. 5 out of 5

    A.

    Uzun zamandır, bu kadar “bit artık!” diye gözünün içine baktığım bir kitap olmamıştı! Ben okurken zor okudum, çeviren çevirirken nasıl çevirmiş hayret... Bir yıldız kitabın kendisineyse, diğer yıldız çevirmene.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Berenice Tarará

    Entendí Máximo la mitad, me parece que es mejor leer este libro en inglés o con conocimientos avanzados de lógica o lingüística o todo lo anterior. Aún así es evidente que nos encontramos ante una gran obra

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    An extremely important work which is also quite funny and readable.

  20. 4 out of 5

    KimNica

    Full of jargon, confusing examples and unnecessary detours. The only saving grace is the "plot" twist at the end. Reading just the last two chapters would have been sufficient.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jazlyn

    Now I know how to do things with words.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Oniria

    Lingüística. Muy preciso, muchos ejemplos, muy científico. Perspectiva algo jurídica. Taxonómico.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Davianne

    Too confusing and wordy when it could definitely be simplified.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie Russell

    While extremely confusing at times, Austin's ideas about performative language resonates across disciplines and is recognizable in performance as an art.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Faber

    A philosopher talks about words, in the process showing why I don't take philosophers seriously. The imprecision of language is necessary in order for it to be useful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Claudio Valverde

    Muy interesante, pero por momentos bastante complejo. Importante lectura para estudiantes de derecho, abogados y lingüistas.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lorena

    Interesante y denso

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zacharygs

    A series of 12 lectures in a very readable and engaging format on the philosophical attempt to isolate “preformatives” or an utterance which does something more than just saying something. Initial examples given are such preformatives as “I do,” “I name this ship…”, “I give and bequeath my watch to my brother,” and “I bet” or “I promise” (5). These example all have in common that the saying, the uttering of the words itself preforms the words. “I Bet” is thus more than a description or a stative A series of 12 lectures in a very readable and engaging format on the philosophical attempt to isolate “preformatives” or an utterance which does something more than just saying something. Initial examples given are such preformatives as “I do,” “I name this ship…”, “I give and bequeath my watch to my brother,” and “I bet” or “I promise” (5). These example all have in common that the saying, the uttering of the words itself preforms the words. “I Bet” is thus more than a description or a stative utterance, but it actually preforms the action it designates. The rest of the lectures are geared towards isolating these preformatives, defending their existence, and outlining where they fit in relationship to other words, kinds of actions, and so forth. Toward this end, Austin isolates three central aspects of the preformative: Locutionary Acts (and the phonetic [of sound], phatic [of language, vocab], and rhetic [of speech] acts it entails) as the saying, the utterance of a thing which has meaning, the illocutionary act which has a “force in saying something”, and the perlocutionary act which achieves certain effects and consequences BY saying something (121). Austin has extensive examples for these three and the lectures are geared to isolate these three acts and then further enunciate and elucidate their place and positive vis-à-vis each other. A good example of the three would be “This is the case” as a locutionary utterance with definite reference, “I argue this is the case” as illocutionary force of arguing (or betting, naming, etc.), and “I convinced him this is the case” as perlocutionary effect or consequence. Austin never actually maintains any USE for these lectures, until the very end when he suggests one very brief remark on how they might be used in helping philosophers think about “good” and what the word, descriptions and so forth does. But this is in a few sentences and Austin is explicit about his work merely outlining a theory to be developed and used and expounded on. By the end he has delineated five classes of preformative which he calls the verdictive (i.e., giving of verdicts), exercitives (i.e., the exercising of one’s power, position, or authority), Commissives (i.e., committing oneself to an action as in “I bet” or “I promise”), behabitives (i.e., conventional means of doing such as “I apologize” in order to apologize or “I congratulate” in order to congratulate), and Expositives (i.e., expositions and explanations of what had been said or done; “I quote” or “I cite”; for references refer to lecture 12). Austin decides there are somewhere between 1000 to 1999 verbs which fall into one of these 5 categories (150) A further distinction should be included as well, that of the different between Primary and Explicit preformatives. Primary preformatives are earlier utterances which are implicitly preformative such as “I Shall be there” as opposed to the explicit preformative “I promise that I shall be there” (69). Thus, Austin is not concerned with explicit formula and models for delineating preformatives that deny preformative force to other types of words (in the end even concluding that constatives are ALSO preformatives in an interesting and parallel way). Very helpful and useful book for thinking with about meaning, what it is to both say and to do something, and a very readable account for thinking about how language works, how we use it, what we might use it for, and how we might use it better. He summarizes previous lectures at the beginning of a new one (and reading his summaries could qualify as rereading if needed).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anders

    A delightful read. Based on a series of lectures at Harvard, Austin makes good on his chance to elucidate the dichotomy of constative (descriptive) vs. performative utterances. And boy does he ever. Out of the 12, some lectures spend good time delineating categories, others waste time expanding those categories to their limits, but by the end Austin is ready to tell you something worthwhile--that the original dichotomy ought to be cast out. For it is only then that we can make an earnest stride A delightful read. Based on a series of lectures at Harvard, Austin makes good on his chance to elucidate the dichotomy of constative (descriptive) vs. performative utterances. And boy does he ever. Out of the 12, some lectures spend good time delineating categories, others waste time expanding those categories to their limits, but by the end Austin is ready to tell you something worthwhile--that the original dichotomy ought to be cast out. For it is only then that we can make an earnest stride toward dispelling many philosophical "problems" that are merely the result of misunderstandings. A quick, easy read (I'd say) and especially appealing to those continental-leaning, Ordinary Language Philosophy-loving brigands. A quote I liked: “But consider also for a moment whether the question of truth or falsity is so very objective. We ask: “Is it a fair statement?” and are the good reasons and good evidence for stating and saying so very different from the good reasons and evidence for performative acts like arguing, warning, and judging? Is the constative, then, always true or false? When a constative is confront with the facts, we in fact appraise it in ways involving the employment of a vast array of terms which overlap with those that we use in the appraisal of performatives. In real life, as opposed to the simple situations envisaged in logical theory, one cannot always answer in a simple manner whether it is true or false.” Morals he suggests: “The total speech act in the total speech situation is the only actual phenomenon which, in the last resort, we are engaged in elucidating.” “Stating, describing, etc., are just two names among a very great many others for illocutionary acts; they have no unique position.” “In particular, they have no unique position over the matter of being related to facts in a unique way called being true of false, because truth and falsity are (except by an artificial abstraction which is always possible and legitimate for certain purposes) not names for relations, qualities, or what not, but for a dimension of assessment—how the words stand in respect of satisfactoriness to the facts, events situations, etc., to which they refer.” “By the same token, the familiar contrast of “normative or evaluative” as opposed to the factual is in need, like so many dichotomies, of elimination.” “We may well suspect that the theory of “meaning” as equivalent to “sense and reference” will certainly require some weeding-out and reformulating in terms of the distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts (if this distinction is sound: it is only adumbrated here). I admit that not enough has been done here: I have taken the old “sense and reference” on the strength of current views; I would also stress that I have omitted any direct consideration of the illocutionary force of statements."

  30. 4 out of 5

    E

    Speech-act theory, which this work was the first to popularize, is fascinating. You may have learned in school that the purpose of statements are to state a fact (indicative), ask a question (interrogative), or express emotion (exclamatory). But what about statements that actually accomplish something? For example, when the parson says, "I now declare you man and wife," he isn't merely stating that they happen to be man and wife; he is making it so. The examples abound: christening a ship, deliv Speech-act theory, which this work was the first to popularize, is fascinating. You may have learned in school that the purpose of statements are to state a fact (indicative), ask a question (interrogative), or express emotion (exclamatory). But what about statements that actually accomplish something? For example, when the parson says, "I now declare you man and wife," he isn't merely stating that they happen to be man and wife; he is making it so. The examples abound: christening a ship, delivering a verdict, naming a baby, and so on and so forth. This is important for theology because so much of what God declares in the Bible falls into this category. So, this book had the opportunity to be great. But it's not. It's divided into 12 "lectures" (or chapters, but the material was first delivered orally), and honestly a good half of them are dithering remarks how you distinguish true speech-acts from other statements. But that's not the title of the book! I want to learn how to use them for full effect. Even the final few, better chapters are more about classification than use. He introduces the now-standard locution/illocution/perlocution distinction that was quite hazy in seminary but much clearer now. Locution: a statement with a particular meaning. Illocution: the force of those words. Perlocution: achieving certain effects by saying those words. So, for example, locution: "That burner is hot." Illocution: You probably shouldn't touch it. Perlocution: your husband's hand is safe. These distinctions are not always clear-cut, but it is helpful to keep them in mind when we discuss the import of various statements. In all, Austin writes that there are five types of statements/locutions. 1. Verdictive: giving a verdict, estimate, appraisal, etc. ("You're guilty"; "the batter is out"; "I rule you out of order") 2. Exercitives: exercising powers, influence, etc. ("I appoint you chairman:" "I warn you that bull is about to charge") 3. Commissives: promising or otherwise committing oneself ("I covenant with you"; "I pledge twenty dollars") 4. Behabitives: addressing attitudes and social behavior ("I congratulate you"; "I apologize") 5. Expositives: placing our other words into their proper arguments and conversations ("I concede"; "I reply"; "I swear") So, while all the classifications were interesting, I would have preferred more discussion of their usage and effects.

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