Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning

Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning

Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning

Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning

Synopsis

What is it for a sentence to have a certain meaning? This is the question that William P. Alston, one of America's most distinguished and prolific analytic philosophers, addresses in this major contribution to the philosophy of language. His answer focuses on the given sentence's potential to play the role that its speaker had in mind-what he terms the usability of the sentence to perform the illocutionary act intended by its speaker. Alston defines an illocutionary act as an act of saying something with a certain "content." He develops his account of what it is to perform such acts in terms of taking responsibility, in uttering a sentence, for the existence of certain conditions. In requesting someone to open a window, for example, the speaker takes responsibility for its being the case that the window is closed and that the speaker has an interest in its being opened. In Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning, Alston expands upon this concept, creating a framework of five categories of illocutionary act and going on to argue that sentence meaning is fundamentally a matter of illocutionary act potential; that is, for a sentence to have a particular meaning is for it to be usable to perform illocutionary acts of a certain type. In providing detailed and explicit patterns of analysis for the whole range of illocutionary acts, Alston makes a unique contribution to the field of philosophy of language-one that is likely to generate debate for years to come.

Excerpt

This book has been a long time in gestation. Or, to be more accurate, a long time has passed since the author had the basic idea of the position developed in this book. During most of that time the book (or incipient beginnings there of) wasn't receiving much in the way of gestation. the first glimmerings surfaced in the late 1950s. Despite writing a series of articles setting out pieces of the project (see bibliography), and despite giving courses and seminars on the philosophy of language fairly regularly up to the early 1980s, I did not produce anything of a book-length format until the late 1970s. By 1981 I had what I regarded at that time as a more or less complete draft of a book. But it remained gathering dust on my shelf until some two years ago, when I decided it was now or never. As usual, the refurbishing job was more extensive than anticipated, but by now it would appear that I will be only slightly late for the new millennium.

If truth be told, I am more than a little embarrassed over the long delay in publishing this book. But at least I have the consolation of some distinguished precedents. in the preface to his Frege's Philosophy of Language (1973) Michael Dummett writes: “This book has been a very long time in the writing”. After giving some reasons for this that are internal to the subject matter and his relation thereto, he continues.

In the autumn of 1964, most of the book… was in a finished state, and it
needed only a few months' work to complete. That I did not finish it early in

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