Speech Act Theory

Discipline: Philosophy

Also 'illocutionary act theory'.

Originally formulated by the British philosopher John Langshaw Austin (1911-1960), and developed by the American JOHN ROGERS SEARLE (1932- ), it is a branch of PRAGMATICS.

When saying something, one is simultaneously doing something. An 'utterance act' is performed in voicing words and sentences; a 'propositional act' is carried out by referring to entities and predicating states and actions.

The interpersonal act performed in speaking is an 'illocutionary act' (the central concept): 'I promise to pay you $5.00' counts as an act of promising if certain SINCERITY CONDITIONS or FELICITY CONDITIONS are fulfilled.

The intended effect on the addressee is a 'perlocutionary act'.

Also see: emotivism, performative theory of negation, performative theory of truth, prescriptivism, subjectivist theories of probability

J L Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford, 1962);
J R Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge, 1969)


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