How to Read How to Do Things with Words: On Sbisà’s Proof by Contradiction

Philosophia 52 (1):1-15 (2024)
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Abstract

Midway through How to Do Things With Words, J.L. Austin’s announces a “fresh start” in his efforts to characterize the ways in which speech is action, and introduces a new conceptual framework from the one he has been using up to that point. Against a common reading that portrays this move as simply abandoning the framework so far developed, Marina Sbisà contends that the text takes the argumentative form of a proof by contradiction, such that the initial framework plays an instrumental role as part of a proof in favour of the subsequent one. Despite agreeing with Sbisà’s broad instrumentalist approach, we argue that her regimentation of Austin’s narrative into a proof by contradiction ultimately fails - both as a proof and as an interpretation of Austin. Instead, we suggest that a better way of interpreting the peculiar structure of How to Do Things With Words is as a pedagogical exercise whose point is to bring a concealed alternative into view in a manner that also explains its initial concealment, and that this approach provides richer resources for supporting Sbisà’s own conventionalist understanding of illocution than that afforded by reading the text as a proof by contradiction.

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Author Profiles

Jeremy Wanderer
University of Massachusetts, Boston
Leo Townsend
University of Reading

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References found in this work

Speech Acts.J. Searle - 1969 - Foundations of Language 11 (3):433-446.
Intention and convention in speech acts.Peter F. Strawson - 1964 - Philosophical Review 73 (4):439-460.
Speech Acts: The Contemporary Theoretical Landscape.Daniel W. Harris, Daniel Fogal & Matt Moss - 2018 - In Daniel Fogal, Daniel W. Harris & Matt Moss (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford University Press.

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