14 Pages

Assertions and Aberrations

IN his paper ‘A Plea for Excuses’ Professor J. L. Austin makes the following point. The expressions which we use to qualify descriptions of actions, expressions such as intentionally, voluntarily, on purpose, deliberately, etc., are not used to qualify an action unless the action is in some sense aberrant or untoward. It is linguistically improper, says Austin, to assert or deny of an action that it is intentional, deliberate, voluntary, done on purpose, etc., unless the action is aberrant. (A corollary of this point is that to state that an action is voluntary or involuntary, etc., is to imply that it is in some sense untoward or aberrant.) Austin says:

The natural economy of language dictates that for the standard case covered by any normal verb no modifying expression is required or even permissible. Only if we do the action named in some special way or circumstances, different from those in which such an act is naturally done (and, of course, both the normal and the abnormal differ according to what verb in particular is in question) is a modifying expression called for or even in order.